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Homebody: UCSC alum and Go Home founder Ben Goldberg brings Charlie Hunter, Scott Amendola and Ron Miles together for a night of stirring straight-ahead informed by avant-garde.

Where the Heart Is

Led by UCSC alum Ben Goldberg, the all-star combo Go Home returns to jazz's roots.

By Andrew Gilbert

When Thomas Wolff wrote that you can't go home again, he wasn't thinking about the way an intoxicating groove or an insinuating song can instantly summon a world of vivid associations. More than any other art form, music runs through our bodies with a mysterious power, erasing time and space while transporting us to a distant moment.

Clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg's new quartet Go Home speaks to a fascinating creative journey that has taken Goldberg from the esoteric realms of the avant-garde to the simple pleasures of syncopation and melody. Featuring eight-string guitar wizard Charlie Hunter, groovalicious drummer Scott Amendola and crafty trumpeter Ron Miles (best known for his many collaborations with guitarist Bill Frisell), the band makes its West Coast debut on Thursday at Kuumbwa. Go Home also performs as part of a musical celebration of Amendola's 40th birthday on Friday at San Francisco's Café du Nord and headlines at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage on Saturday.

The project was born when the need to record with Hunter hit Goldberg as an epiphany. At first glance they're an unlikely musical couple. The Berkeley-raised, Brooklyn-dwelling Hunter has focused on groove-based music since he helped launch the acid jazz movement back in the early 1990s (though he's also recorded several exploratory free improv sessions with percussionist Bobby Previte in Groundtruther). Goldberg has blazed a brilliant path through jazz's outer reaches, studiously avoiding straight-ahead swing until fairly recently.

"I went through some pretty heavy changes, and my music started to reflect that," says the Berkeley-based Goldberg, who also performs and records the rootsy chamber-jazz ensemble Tin Hat, as well as Plays Monk, a trio with Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff that focuses on the music of Thelonious Monk. "The Plays Monk record was the first time I put out a record that sounded like jazz, or wasn't trying to be something besides jazz. That was a big step for me.

"With Go Home I started thinking a lot more about melody and harmony and groove, and playing some music that's a little more meat and potatoes," Goldberg continues. "The goal isn't to get some place really far out there. It's to find home and go there."

Judging from the music the quartet recorded last year in New York City (for an album that's yet to be released), home for Goldberg is spacious and cozy, pungent and perfumed, sophisticated and rough and tumble. Born and raised in Denver, he attended the same high school as Ron Miles, and Go Home is partly inspired by the uncanny feeling of returning to childhood locales. Miles also played a key role on another unreleased Goldberg album featuring Joshua Redman.

"Ron's the center of gravity," Goldberg says. "He's so calm and intelligent. He always makes a right move. It's not that he's cautious. Everything is in proportion. He has this amazing combination of patience and daring. When he reaches for it, he just totally reaches for it, and it's brilliant and in the right place."

For much of his career, Goldberg was known as an improviser who reached for startling new sounds. After studying music at UC-Santa Cruz in the mid-'80s, he founded the New Klezmer Trio, a pioneering band that melded the celebratory music of Eastern European Jewry with avant-garde jazz. A composer with a gift for writing evocative and inviting tunes, he seems to have found a wondrous new vehicle for combining his grounded desire with his far-ranging imagination.

"It's so easy for Charlie and I to play together, we've done it for so long," Amendola says. "And there are so many angles to Ben's music. These grooves are really fun, but with all the harmonies, it's like a symphony."

GO HOME with Ben Goldberg, Charlie Hunter, Ron Miles and Scott Amendola performs Thursday, Feb. 5, at 7 and 9pm, Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $22/$25; or 831.427.2227.

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