This collective trio gives jazz school a good nameBill Meyeron September 22, 2020 at 1:00 pm

When the word “academic” is applied to jazz, it’s not necessarily a compliment. But these three players, all of whom teach at universities, make music that could keep you at school till the sun comes up. The success of General Semantics, the debut album by Northern Illinois University’s Geof Bradfield (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet), DePaul University’s Dana Hall (drums), and UC Berkeley’s Ben Goldberg (B-flat and contra-alto clarinets), derives from the trio’s collective engagement with diverse stylistic fundamentals as well as their understanding of the connections between different eras of jazz. They endow the Cecil Taylor piece “Air” with a featherlight grace that recalls Jimmy Giuffre’s swinging convergence of folk and chamber music more than the abrupt delivery favored by its composer. The fact that they can get you thinking about those two musicians at once illustrates their understanding of how Taylor and Giuffre challenged bebop orthodoxy in their own unique ways at the same time. On the other hand, they can also speak bebop’s traditional language–and the breakneck speed with which they negotiate the convoluted melody of Goldberg’s “Last Important Heartbreak of the Year” shows just how fluently. Another Goldberg original, “Lamentation,” reconciles the funereal quality of early New Orleans jazz and the optimistic lyricism of mid-20th-century soul music. And their arrangement of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Half the Fun” likewise spans decades by gleefully mixing up the timbral extremes of post-Ayler free jazz with the unabashed sensuality that its composers probably had in mind. 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. v

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