Hamir Atwal + Ben Goldberg – Clarinet and Drums (2015)

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A no-nonsense title for a no-nonsense album, this meeting of Bay Area improvised music stars Ben Goldberg and Hamir Atwal rightly doesn’t get more specific than that, because while this might nominally be called “jazz,” the clarinetist and drummer puts no fences on what they play.

The just-released Clarinet and Drums pairs these kindred spirits for thirteen short performances — mostly improvs — that offer up bite-sized morsels of what is possible with a drum kit and some black wood when imagination and intuition take control.

Think doom metal needs over-amped guitars? “Where the Buffalo Roam” begs to differ. “Sleep” likewise is missing only Ozzy’s apocalyptic vocals. Dope, funky hip-hop beats are served up organically on “All About That (Contra) Bass,” and remixed later on for good measure.

Atwal goes it alone on “Dave Tough,” rolling in from the distance in a cloud of dust. The two operate on contrasting speeds for “BG’s Interlude #1,” where Atwal’s thunder dominates. “Caffeine Headache” starts out with a light swing then lunges into free improv featuring Goldberg’s anguished wails. For “9+5,” Atwal plays around Goldberg in one mind with the clarinet. The duo works the wide-open spaces on the dispersed, atmospheric “Rain,” the only performance that runs over three and a half minutes.

Like another indescribable project that Atwal was involved with as a part of Cavity Fang, this encounter with the eminent clarinet player Goldberg leaves nothing off the table for exploring what is possible with just a couple of instruments, and wastes no time with its concise pursuance. Clarinet and Drums is a fresh approach to improvised music that succeeds on the simpatico and sheer skill of its participants.

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