Live and on record

By JON GARELICK  |  November 4, 2009

The first tune, “Ethan’s Song” (written by Goldberg’s son), was typical — bluesy with a shuffle rhythm, Hunter laying down the bass vamp, tickling high notes in response, trombone and clarinet harmonizing on the theme. In truth, with his seven-string guitar (scaled back from the eight-string with which he came to prominence), Hunter is like two players in one, guitarist and bassist, accompanying his own single-note leads with running bass figures. His and Amendola’s grooves were narcotic — hanging back with a gravitational pull on the forward-leaning syncopations, even when they were tearing up a heavy rock backbeat. And some of the best visual music I’ve seen all month was Amendola’s body English, as he faked and feinted his well-spaced rim-and-hi-hat hits.

Goldberg and Fowlkes, meanwhile, were just as impressively understated. Goldberg has beautiful tone and control, a nice dark low register and focused high notes, and he got maximum expression without ever straining his sound — runs and arpeggios flowed with silken aplomb. Fowlkes, ubiquitous in the ’80s avant-garde, re-established his authority with a pure, unforced big tone.

Some of the finest moments came when Goldberg and Fowlkes took to extended passages of counterpoint improv before splitting into their solos. “How To Do Things with Tears” (a title Goldberg said he got from one of his Brandeis teachers, the poet Allen Grossman) began with Goldberg stating the plaintive theme and Fowlkes playing obbligatos behind him with a mute, then segued into “Papermaker,” one of the sweetest grooves of the night, a perfect syncopated five-note vamp. There was also a “death march” called “Inevitable” (with press rolls from Amendola) that shifted up in tempo for “Isosceles,” with a great solo from Fowlkes, who ratcheted the tension with stuttering grace notes before finding release in grand long tones, Hunter playing one “guitar” chord every other bar against his bass. An encore of Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On” (from Saved) was the perfect hymnal benediction.

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