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Temporary Trio Creates A Quirky Groove On 'General Semantics'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says when traveling musicians meet at festivals or concerts and they hit it off - jamming after hours, sitting in or yakking backstage - they'll often say, we should make a record. Sometimes they actually do, like the trio of two Chicagoans who kept running into this cat from the Bay Area. Kevin says they knew a good thing when they heard it.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOF BRADFIELD, BEN GOLDBERG, DANA HALL TRIO'S "HALF THE FUN")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: That's "Half The Fun" from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's sweet "Such Sweet Thunder." It's played by the trio of Geof Bradfield and Ben Goldberg on reeds and Dana Hall on drums. Chicago's Bradfield and Hall played together a lot and build on their interplay in bassist Clark Summers's trio Bash, who had their own good CDs. So this temporary trio swaps in a clarinettist for the bass player, but Ben Goldberg, in from Berkeley, Calif., sometimes takes the bass part anyway on the giant rumbling contralto clarinet.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOF BRADFIELD, BEN GOLDBERG AND DANA HALL TRIO'S "GENERAL SEMANTICS")

WHITEHEAD: Geoff Bradfield, Ben Goldberg and Dana Hall on the title track to their album, "General Semantics." The two reed players brought five instruments between them, and the trio has a lot of coloristic and stylistic range, also because formidable drummer Hall rethinks his strategies from piece to piece, swinging hard, getting funky, whatever. On Goldberg's tune, "Last Important Heartbreak," there are echoes of raucous early jazz and the way clarinet and Bradfield's tenor sax weave around each other and in Dana Hall's joyful parade beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOF BRADFIELD, BEN GOLDBERG AND DANA HALL TRIO'S "LAST IMPORTANT HEARTBREAK OF THE YEAR")

WHITEHEAD: Both horn players write for the trio, and they all bring broad experience to the date, Geof Bradfield with his roots in Houston and his investigations of forgotten corners of jazz history, Ben Goldberg coming up blending jazz and klezmer and drummer and ethnomusicologist Dana Hall booting a wide variety of jazz bands in or out of Chicago. The players don't look to retrace any of that, but it all goes in the soup. There is a whiff of Eastern Europe on Bradfield's "Never Met A Stranger," one where he takes the bass part on bass clarinet.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOF BRADFIELD, BEN GOLDBERG AND DANA HALL TRIO'S "NEVER MET A STRANGER")

WHITEHEAD: Ben Goldberg on clarinet. The colors get brightest when both reed players use their little horns matching clarinet with its chubby cousin, soprano sax. In dialogue, the horns can rub shoulders or steer around each other, as on a rousing Brazilian number by Hermeto Pascoal. Dana Hall beats out a different kind of parade rhythm, and he covers the low end with a syncopated bass drum.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOF BRADFIELD, BEN GOLDBERG AND DANA HALL TRIO'S "8 DE AGOSTO")

WHITEHEAD: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOF BRADFIELD, BEN GOLDBERG AND DANA HALL TRIO'S "LAMENTATION")

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the new book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed the new album, "General Semantics," by the trio of Geoff Bradfield, Ben Goldberg and Dana Hall. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you've missed, like our interview with Ethan Hawke, who's now starring as the 19th-century abolitionist leader John Brown in the new Showtime series "The Good Lord Bird," or our interview with rock 'n' roll star Lenny Kravitz, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOF BRADFIELD, BEN GOLDBERG AND DANA HALL TRIO'S "LAMENTATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.