Many jazz musicians have integrated poetry into their music, but very few have taken their interest to the levels of clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg on his new recording, “Good Day for Cloud Fishing” (Pyroclastic), out Friday. Mr. Goldberg creates 12 tunes with an extraordinary trio—himself, guitarist Nels Cline and trumpeter Ron Miles —inspired by poems of Dean Young. Mr. Young joined the musicians in the studio (in the credits, he is listed as playing typewriter) and wrote new poems in response to the music he heard. The poetry that motivated the music or was prompted by the recording session is included in the album package.
Poetry has been of vital importance to Mr. Goldberg’s recent work. For some of the lyrics of his 2015 release, “Orphic Machine,” he adapted “Summa Lyrica: A Primer of the Commonplaces in Speculative Poetics,” an essay by Allen Grossman. Also, he is a member of the eclectic chamber group Tin Hat, whose 2012 release was “The Rain is a Handsome Animal (17 Songs from the Poetry of E.E. Cummings ).”
Messrs. Cline and Miles have played with Mr. Goldberg before, and the trio’s easy rapport elevates the music. The absence of a conventional rhythm section results in a lighter, nimble sound with either Mr. Goldberg’s clarinet or scratchy guitar riffs from Mr. Cline forming a musical bottom for many of the pieces. The fanfares and harmonies are delicate. Taken alone, the music stands as a stellar document of small-group jazz, but the poetry enriches the experience.
The poems that moved Goldberg to compose each of the 12 tracks on the recording, called the “Entry Poems,” are printed on jewel-box-size cards. On their flipsides are the verses written by Mr. Young in response to the music—the “Exit Poems.” In many cases, the performances accent the whimsical insights of the words. Lines from “Parthenogenesis”—“The goat eats god. Good for the goat, good for god, especially good for the cheese”—are reflected in the curlicuing clarinet figures that begin the piece and in the probing trumpet licks that follow. In “Corpse Pose” the spirit of Mr. Young’s line “I shouldn’t have expected so much from sex, 3-D printers and swans” is enlarged through a comparatively burly musical passage built around Mr. Cline’s gritty guitar lines and basslike murmurs from Mr. Goldberg’s contra-alto clarinet. In the case of “A Rhythmia,” a jaunty, melodic piece that could easily fit into a jazz-radio format, the poem written afterward—titled “Ornithology,” the same name as a jazz standard written by Charlie Parker and Benny Harris —connects more with the music.
Mr. Goldberg recently celebrated his 60th birthday with a series of five concerts at the Stone in New York. Each show presented a strikingly different ensemble, placing his economical clarinet style in a range of contexts.
The largest group, a 10-piece band with three vibraphonists and three guitarists, illustrated his approach well. Mr. Goldberg entered the venue alone, repeating a short melodic line on his clarinet; he was followed—one by one—by other band members, each accenting that line. The music built in complexity and heft, becoming atmospheric and abstract before gracefully transitioning into catchy, up-tempo songs.
On the final night of the run, Mr. Goldberg played in a trio that included Mr. Cline, and at times they seemed to revisit exchanges from the recording. During the show Mr. Goldberg announced his landmark birthday, then repeated advice he received from trumpeter Bobby Bradford. “Don’t worry,” the 85-year-old told him about aging. “You’ll get used to it.” It was a line that resonated with multiple implications and humorous insights, much like Mr. Young’s poetry.
Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.