Ben Goldberg's Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues
Ben Goldberg's Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (on his self-owned BAG Production label), is an album as seriously playful as its title. There's a deceptive looseness in the music's rhythm, veering toward New Orleans bar stomp, but braced by modern harmonies (Steve Lacy, Monk, and Andrew Hill are heavy influences), and swung from an early Ornette-ish sense of blues (one of Goldberg's 9 originals on the album, "Study of the Blues," is a Cubist riff on the opening bars of "Lonely Woman"), though rooted more in Coleman's deep melody than his Free velocity.
The band is topnotch: Goldberg on clarinet, Joshua Redman on tenor sax, Ron Miles on trumpet, Devin Hoff on bass, and Ches Smith on drums. (I recently raved about Miles' album, Quiver, with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade; I'm less familiar with Hoff and Smith, though intend to rectify that.)
There's a clairvoyance in their playing, an ensemble flair for stretching the tempo and snapping it back in a way that lets the music float without drifting. Even when the polyphony gets ripe, each line is crisp and propulsive.
The streams flow so clearly, thanks in part to the CD's sonic purity and dynamics. Along with Dave Douglas' Be Still (engineered by Joe Ferla), Subatomic Particle... is one of the best-sounding new jazz CDs I've heard in a long time. The horns are right there, arrayed in a row; you can practically see the air pushing through their shapes and out into the room. The bass snaps and sings; the drumkit slaps and sizzles.
Jeff Cressman, the Bay area engineer who laid down the tracks, tells me he recorded the session on 88.2kHz/24-bit digital with Apogee converters in a now-defunct studio renown for its well-balanced acoustics. He used two Coles 4038 ribbon mikes for the Bb clarinet (switching to an RCA77 when Goldberg played contra-alto), an omni Schoeps MK2 capsule for the trumpet, a Neumann TLM170 for the bass, and a mix on the trapset, including AKG 452s overhead, Beyer M380s on the tom-toms, Schoeps hyper-cardoid on the hi-hat, and a large tube condenser on the kick drum. Mark Orton, a Portland mixing engineer, sent it through an analog outboard, with little tampering, before converting it back to digital.
It sounds great.
One sad fact: The session was recorded in 2008. After failing to find a buyer, Goldberg started his own label (BAG Production Records) and put it out there, along with a growing line of products, which I also intend to check out.