The Poetry of Jazz

Hands down, my favorite album of 2019 is the singular jazz/poetry collaboration between Berkeley clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg and poet Dean Young, Good Day for Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic Records). Goldberg made his first major foray into setting text to music with his sumptuous song cycle Orphic Machine (BAG Production Records), which was released in 2015. An almost through-composed work drawn from the writings of critic and poet Allen Grossman, the project featured a gaudy collection of musicians, including guitarist Nels Cline, trumpeter Ron Miles, and violin and vocals by Goldberg’s Tin Hat bandmate Carla Kihlstedt.
Cline and Miles also join Goldberg on Cloud Fishing, a series of dreamscapes featuring a distilled trio playing tunes inspired by Young’s epigrammatic poetry. Goldberg includes 12 cards in the CD box with the poems that inspired the tunes, and taking another turn on the roundelay of influences, Young was in the studio as they recorded the pieces, writing a new poem inspired by the music (each “exit” verse is featured on the back of the card with the initial “entry” poem). Rather than trying to illustrate Young’s verse, Goldberg approached the collaboration informed by Albert Grossman’s dictum that his text was “intended like a poem to give rise to thoughts about something else.”
“I’m totally nuts about the poems of Dean Young,” Goldberg says. “I thought about trying to use some of his poetry in songs, but there are a lot of words and they go off in all different directions. I didn’t think I could make music that would help those poems. When I read them, it gives me a feeling about life. If I right away write down the first tune that come to mind it really felt like I was participating in the spirit of the poem that I loved.”

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