Ben Goldberg: Clarinet Communion
AAJ: That's a big feeling you get out of these recordingsthe atypical use of space for klezmer or even jazz. So, how did it start? How did the band come together, and how did you start composing tunes for the Trio?
BG: I just had this feeling, like I wanted to do something that felt more personal and more like me, more modern or more avant-garde. And I started to see the possibilities, where you could do that using the klezmer material. And I had put so much work into itI knew [the music] backwards and forwards, I knew how the melodies worked and everything. So I was just dying to try something that stepped beyond the usual thing. Plus, you know, if you're playing music and it's being presented to the audience and being talked about amongst the musicians as a faithful recreation of something that people used to do 60 years agothat's not something I really wanted to be doing.
I started feeling funny on stage. To me, music was something that people were doing right now and making something new out of. So I really didn't feel good about being part of an operation- -more generally a music community or movementthat held that as its highest ideal.
AAJ: How did you go about breaking free from that?
BG: The ingredients were all right there. All I had to do was step into it. I had musicians I could work with [in Kenny Wollesen and Dan Seamans]. I had the repertoire at my fingertips: the articulations, the ways of playing the melodies, and stuff like that. And I had the energy. You see, this energy had built up, and it just needed to be released because it had built up to such an extent that it's like there was no way that I could have not done the New Klezmer Trio. That's another thingthat style of music and playing has a lot of compressed energy. It has a lot of starting and stopping, and stuttering phrasing, and stuff that keeps dwelling in the same place over and over. That stuff builds up a lot of internal pressure, and it just needed to be released. So that was the easy thing. There was nothing else to do at that point.
AAJ: When you look back on composing these tunes or playing them from the first time, what are your impressions? Was it a kind of blur coming out?
BG: No, I definitely remember the work that went into it. Composing the music. I remember a lot of the rehearsals, how we figured out what we were doing, and rehearsing the hell out of it. We had some hard songs. If you listen to that first record, there are songs like "Masks and Faces"I couldn't play that song today. We could play it then. We could land on the right place together, which is quite an accomplishment.
AAJ: How essential is improvisation in relation to the compositional elements in New Klezmer Trio or other Jewish music that you've done?
BG: Well, the idea the whole time with the New Klezmer Trio was to improvise. That was part of the impulse, because in the more traditional klezmer settings, if you had a chance to play a solo, it might be 25 secondsa few bars or something. So part of what we wanted to doI needed to play something that lasted ten minutes.
AAJ: Is Speech Communication, (Tzadik, 2009) your last New Klezmer Trio album?
BG: Oh, I don't know. Every time I do one I think it's the last one. In September, I was in New York and I recorded a record of [John Zorn's] Masada compositions [with the Trio and Jamie Saft]. And now in February, I'm going to make a duo record with Jamie.
AAJ: Do you notice a difference in how you approach the music when playing your tunes, playing with the more traditional bands, and playing Masada tunes, or playing your own music with New Klezmer Trio?
BG: Well, whenever I play my own musicwhether it's something like Speech Communication or it's Go Home or my quintetthat's as personal as it gets. Those are my tunes. I know all the places that I want to get to and where I want to hang out. That's why I wrote those songs.
BG: There's often a dedicationin fact, I think there's always a dedication. I'm not crazy about the word "tribute." To me, a dedication is something that can call forth something from you, towards the spirit of the person you're dedicating it to. Like The Door, The Fact, The Chair, The Hat (Cryptogramophone, 2006)that's dedicated to Steve Lacy. I really tried, within that music, to deal with the questions about who am I in relation to Steve Lacy, because here was a guy who was so importantso important. The fact is that if I could have learned how to play exactly like Steve Lacy, I would have. That's how important he was to me.
AAJ: That's an important person, definitely.
BG: Definitely, but that brings up some questions. If you're dedicating music to somebody who's that important to you, what are you going to do? Make a record that sounds exactly like it could have been a Steve Lacy record? To me, that's not in the spirit of what I learned from Steve Lacy. For one thing, it's impossible. For another thing, I don't think that the meaning of a guy like Steve Lacy is: everybody should sound like me. When someone's that important, I think the deeper message is: you better sound like yourself.