Album Reviews

Ben Goldberg – Orphic Machine

Artist:     Ben Goldberg

Album:     Orphic Machine

Label:     BAG Production

Release Date:     03/24/2015


Clarinetist Ben Goldberg is not exaggerating when he calls Orphic Machine the most ambitious project of his more than 25-year career. Working from the “speculative poetics” of author and critic Allen Grossman’s “Summa Lyrica” and addressing the subject of artistic inspiration itself, Goldberg’s cross-genre compositions–combining jazz, rock and klezmer–are complex and compelling.

Goldberg leads a nine-piece band comprised of longtime collaborators. While all the performers acquit themselves well, violinist and singer Carla Kihlstedt and guitarist Nels Cline particularly stand out. Cline’s noisy solo during the collective improvisation that closes “Reading” and his lengthy, blues-inflected solo at the end of “Care” are among the best performances on the album. Kihlstedt’s vocals turn the sometimes unwieldy lyrics into something beautiful. It is difficult to take lines such as “When I realize/The autonomic systems/Of which consciousness/Is a contingency” and make them sound musical but Kihlstedt–with credit also due to Goldberg’s vocal melodies–manages to do so.

Goldberg also plays in Cline’s Andrew Hill tribute project, New Monastery, and the influence of Hill’s music on Orphic Machine is apparent. Combining deft improvisation, accessible melodies and deceptively complex compositions, this is an album that rewards both cursory and in-depth listening.

– Chris Alarie

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