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Marty Ehrlich and Ben Goldberg : Light at the Crossroads

We’re in the midst, perhaps nearing the apex, of a jazz clarinet boom or, if you’re sufficiently jaundiced, boomlet. Clarinet players are even gracing the cover of JT-hey, Woody Allen has to be good for something, if only for stretching a point. Really, there’s an abundance of lively clarinet and bass clarinet music currently being made, and Marty Ehrlich and Ben Goldberg are in the thick of it. Though Ehrlich is known to many as primarily a saxophonist, he is no mere doubler; arguably, his most adventurous work, particularly with his Dark Woods Ensemble, is on clarinet. Ben Goldberg is not only active in the thriving Bay Area improvised music scene, he is also leads the well-received New Klezmer Trio. Ehrlich and Goldberg prove to be very complimentary talents, both as players and writers, on Light At The Crossroads, a strong quartet album with bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Wollesen.

Both Ehrlich and Goldberg contribute four compositions to the set, which is rounded out by Wayne Horvitz’s flowing, lyrical “Ask Me Later.” Of the four Ehrlich compositions, only the sinuous blues “Dark Sestina,” has been recorded before; the sing-songy “Twos” is not a recycled version of “The Terrible Twos” from Ehrlich’s ’88-9 duo disc with bassist Anthony Cox, Falling Man (Muse). While Ehrlich’s title piece smartly turns swirling lines inside out without creases or snags, it is his “I Don’t Know This World Without Don Cherry” that best showcases his compositional finesse, as it seamlessly melds groove-mining vamps, a bouncy Ornettish themes, and a short soul-plumbing plaint. Goldberg’s “Hopeless” taps Ornette’s gift for letting an effervescent theme temporarily lapse into lament; “Texas” evokes the harder-edged contours of the late Atlantic period. While Goldberg’s boldest composition is the stark bass clarinet duo, “April 4,” his most affecting work is the poignant requiem “What I Lost.”

However, Light At The Crossroads is as much a forum for Ehrlich and Goldberg’s improvisational prowess. Their fluency in a variety of contexts, their tag team-like interplay, and their ability to muscle the music into overdrive, are consistently impressive.

Originally Published