Release Date: September 18, 2020/October 30, 2020
Label: Delmark Records
General Semantics is a collaboration between the renowned reedists and composers Geof Bradfield and Ben Goldberg. This release marks the debut of this exciting trio with a unique instrumentation, the confluence of reed instruments with percussion. A masterwork of rhythmic and melodic intrigue, General Semantics features original music by the trio as well as unique interpretations of Duke Ellington, Cecil Taylor, and Hermeto Pascoal classics. Bradfield is featured on soprano and tenor saxophone, and bass clarinet, Ben Goldberg on clarinet and contra alto clarinet and Dana Hall is featured on percussion.
Recorded in Fall 2018, General Semantics is a stunning document of an adventurous musical outing from three world-class musicians. The fresh vitality that emanates from each track of this ambitious outing stems partially from the fact that Bradfield and Goldberg had not played together until the week of this album’s recording. “Ben is incredibly prolific and has such a voice, I’ve admired his writing for years,” Bradfield notes. The concept for this trio was born in 2017 on a chance encounter between the three musicians at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in Chicago. “The music came together easily as we discovered our common vocabulary and musical intentions.” Goldberg notes, “For me it was a thrill to be drawn a little more deeply into the astonishing musical culture of Chicago, by two of its more wide-ranging and active instigators.” The longevity of the relationship of Bradfield and Hall, who have played together for 20+ years, is apparent when one notes the incomparable synergy and cohesiveness displayed on this release.
Regarding the pared-down nature of the ensemble, Bradfield remarks: “...the unusual instrumentation, especially the lack of a bassist, enables the musicians to transcend traditional instrument roles of accompaniment, improvisation, and interaction and create music that embraces form and harmony alongside freedom and spontaneous improvisation.” The organic interplay between the three players in this group allows for the beautiful impromptu fluctuation between collective improvisation and singular melodic invention with sensitive support from the others.
The album begins with the group’s take on Cecil Taylor’s “Air”. Composed in the 1960’s, this rendition is based on a version from Steve Lacy’s 1961 album The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy. Goldberg studied briefly with Lacy, and he’s had a huge influence on both horn players. This take begins with a ceremonious fill by Hall followed by an intense, brooding melody and contrapuntal improvisation between Bradfield and Goldberg, filling the sonic range with first-rate melodic invention.
Goldberg’s playful composition “Hit Flip Switch” features soprano saxophone paired with soprano clarinet. The piece perfectly exemplifies the feeling of joy that pervades New Orleans Jazz. Bradfield notes “I love the vibe that we got on the live performance recording. The house was packed, people were sitting right on top of us… that memory is especially poignant right now in the time of COVID.” The same instrumentation is employed on Bradfield’s arrangement of Hermeto Pascoal’s “8 de Agosto”. A contrapuntal melody leads to a collective improvisation that demonstrates the players’ stunning improvisational facility. Bradfield and Goldberg play simultaneous melodic lines that weave together like the cogs of a finely-tuned machine. Bradfield explains that Hermeto Pascoal “wrote a song every day for a year so that everyone would have a song for their birthday,” as he notes that August 8th is Ben’s birthday, fittingly enough.
“Half the Fun” begins with a fantastic contra-alto clarinet solo before moving towards a driving ostinato while Bradfield explores the melody. Bradfield’s arrangement is a reduction of an Ellington Big Band recording and it conjures the feel and density of the original with a fraction of the instrumentation. The release concludes with “Under and Over”, beginning with Bradfield’s fervent melodic refrains accompanied by Hall’s rhythmic musings. The ensemble falls into a supple groove, with Goldberg taking the lead on a blues-tinged melody.
This departure from the large ensemble venture of Bradfield’s 2018 Delmark debut Yes, and…Music for Nine Improvisers offers a completely different context to hear these three celebrated musicians. Bradfield, Goldberg and Hall offer up an evocative release that explores new works as well as powerful compositions by some of the most intriguing artists of yesteryear.
"The trio emphasizes the exuberance in presenting an instrumental arsenal that deviates from standard small jazz ensembles, not least of which is the absence of a chordal anchor."
LA HABITACIÓN DEL JAZZ
“General Semantics” es un álbum emocionante, imprevisible, irreverente y, a pesar de otros factores que podrían pensar en su dificultad auditiva, es un álbum accesible." Para leer más presione aquí.
NPR - FRESH AIR
"On the trio album, "General Semantics," there's humor, sobriety and a peace that's funky one minute and chamber music the next, all of which goes to show that quirky instrumentation like two reeds plus drums doesn't have to be a limiting factor, at least not if you're in the habit of constantly mulling over your options, which is just what good improvisers do." Review here.
LA HABITACIÓN DEL JAZZ
"The balance between fantasy and sophistication of these three virtuosos on their respective instruments is another of the hidden beauties of this work. 'General Semantics' is an exciting, unpredictable, irreverent album.." Read the review here.
CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE
"General Semantics is an exciting album, both brilliantly irreverent and accessible. The balance of whimsy and depth delivered with sophistication and panache makes it singularly enjoyable and satisfying. The virtuosity with which the three musicians approach their material—and its refreshing mix of relaxed ambience and electrifying creativity—nourishes the mind and the soul." Review here.
"The trio of Geof Bradfield, Ben Goldberg, and Dana Hall reminds us that when like-minded musicians get together, magic can happen. Magic does happen on "General Semantics"––this delightful and musical recording is well worth your attention!" Review here.
"The transparency of the band’s lineup—two reeds and brushes on the drums—makes it especially easy to hear the unshowy virtuosity that each musician brings to his instrument." Read the full review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"This unusual instrumentation becomes both unique and entertaining..If you are in search of something new, fresh and innovative on the jazz scene, this production will totally satisfy your artistic palate." Read the full review here.