When musical friends go home

music-gohome_thumb_thumbCharlie Hunter and Ben Goldberg find out what’s in store when accidents happen

Charlie Hunter just can’t stay away from home. The jazz funk guru who freakishly pulls triple duty on his custom-made seven and eight-string guitars, busting out bass, rhythm and solo magic, first left for the East Coast in 1996 because, he says, “I just had to go to New York to get my butt kicked, you know? I didn’t want to be 50 years old and feel like I didn’t do that.” Still, the Berkeley native hasn’t left us waning from his radar.

Minus his usual trio set-up, Hunter’s back with a surprise ensemble led by Bay Area clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg, who earned his music degree from UC Santa Cruz. With no label, no website, and simply some demo tracks still being packaged, Go Home is as spankin’ new as it gets—an all-star band that’s come together in an ever so jazz-appropriate improvised manner. Rounding out with Hunter’s longtime cohort Scott Amendola on drums and trumpeter Ron Miles (who attended the same Colorado high school as Goldberg and has collaborated extensively with Bill Frisell), the collective is a reunion of old friends, and will make its live debut onstage this week at The Kuumbwa to kick off a trial run of Northern California shows.

Goldberg, formerly of the avant garde New Klezmer Trio known for its innovative free jazz Jewish music, has since seen his songwriting take a more melodic, accessible turn. He collaborated with San Francisco’s Tin Hat acoustic chamber ensemble, and more recently in 2006, he partnered with Amendola in Plays Monk, interpreting the music of Thelonious Monk and further expanding his musical territory. “I felt like groove was becoming more of an important thing for me and that Charlie and I now had a place in common,” Goldberg begins, “so it was like, ‘Yeah, man, well there’s Charlie over there—let’s see what happens if we get together.’”

In an attempt to follow that hunch, Goldberg headed over to Hunter’s New Jersey home last year to share what he had in the works, confident that he whom he calls “a master and student of groove” could take his arrangements and run with it. And he did.

“Something that I’m interested in is old R&B and rootsy grooves over a much more improvised structure, and it was putting these two different paradigms together and making it work,” Hunter recalls, upon first hearing Goldberg’s compositions. “And that was really exciting to me.”

That first jam session ultimately made its way into the studio for a casual two-day recording stint last April in New York, when all four players happened to be in the city for other gigs. Two afternoons, nine songs. With Goldberg and Miles interlocking their respective wind instruments into whimsical lyrical play, and Hunter and Amendola slamming together their thick grooves in an intuitive marriage Goldberg describes as being like ESP, Go Home is like a playground of musical irreverence and stylistic possibility. Hunter delivers a more understated approach, leaving room for the clarinet and cornet to lead in the foreground, and while songs like “Wazee” open up with the guitarist’s signature head-nodding, undulating grooves, songs like “Lace” showcase Goldberg and Miles alternating in an instrumental tango.

“When I first started writing these songs I was kind of embarrassed,” Goldberg confesses. “I felt like I couldn’t play them in public because it’s not complicated or abstract enough. Part of the name of the band was me telling myself, ‘No, just forget about that. Just go home and play that down home music that we all enjoy.’ The funny thing is, it initially came about not as any idea to get a band together. I just suggested that we all go into the studio—I’ll bring the music and let’s just see what happens.”

What happened was a hybridization of each player’s histories with one another and extraordinary versatility to harmonize in any direction. Just another jam session for a savvy crew of virtuosos interconnecting on so many levels. “Everyone has their own thing that they bring to the table, and what you bring gets scrambled up even more,” Hunter says, before summing it up with signature cool, “They’re all just bad asses, you know?”

Go Home performs at 7 and 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5 at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25/adv, $28/door. For more information, call 427-2227.

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