To the Record Shelf: “Loste” by Alex Goldberg
Once a precocious Niskayuna kid, Alex Goldberg built his mostly instrumental album “Loste” in bits and parts, fits and starts – unlike the all-together-now live process of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic on “The Ivan Variations” (TO the Record Shelf #1).
“‘Loste’ took a long time to make,” said the Brooklyn resident.
“The fastest part was writing, then I spent awhile on the arrangements,” he said. “Recording the parts, and then finagling everything on my computer took the most time,” he explained. “For some of the songs with strings and horns, I had one instrumentalist come in at a time and layer each part multiple times, to slowly build a simulated orchestra. On the one hand, it gave me a lot of control over the editing, but it was also quite laborious.”
Goldberg noted, “A few of the shorter songs on the record (“Introe,” “Transitione,” “This Feeling”) were created after the longer songs were finished, as I started to hear gaps in the album’s arc that I wanted to fill.”
The result is inventive, at times intense – a smart, sweet suite. The seamless eight-song work has melody and heft, smooth grooves and rambunctious outbursts.
It’s ambitious because it’s deeply rooted, in a family of players and listeners. Both grandfathers were professional musicians; so is the uncle who taught him to read drum charts at age seven. The youngest of three sons (his brothers are fraternal twins) of hand-drummer father Steve and guitarist-for-fun mother Laurey, Goldberg grew up in a houseful of sound supplied by records of jazz, psychedelic rock, classical minimalism and singer-songwriters.
Full disclosure, Steve and Laurey are friends I see at many shows, but I only ever met Alex once.
“I saw Steve Reich’s ‘Music For 18 Musicians’ when I was in college and knew I had to try to work toward something,” he said. Deerhoof albums also made him made him want to make music.
He played in all the Niskayuna High School ensembles, studied with Albany percussion master Mark Foster from eight to 18, then with NYC percussionist Frank Cassara (of the Steve Reich and Philip Glass Ensembles) at Vassar College, improvising on vibraphone and starting to write music.
A high school band called Blunt Trauma only played two shows; “and I’m not sure it counts,” he said.
“In New York, I’ve played in dozens of bands, often as ‘just the drummer,’ but have also been more of a full member, writing parts and arranging songs, in a few projects,” he said, listing the now-defunct avant-rock/soul project Throw Vision (which spawned four solo projects) and the currently-on-hiatus rock band Double King. “I also currently play in my good friend Dan Kleederman’s band, Grand Kid,” said Goldberg. “He’s heavily featured on guitar and some bass throughout ‘Loste.’”
So is Schenectady-born jazz trombonist Alex Slomka, a childhood friend who now lives in Westchester and plays in New York City big bands. As kids, Goldberg and Slomka played as the Alex Brothers.
In 2014, Goldberg released a solo album as Flordingblast, an electronic-digital project whose fusion/minimalism-inspired pieces show the influence of Flying Lotus.
Then Goldberg aggressively swung the pendulum in the other direction.
“This time I wanted to make something with real people, real instruments,” he said; “a very expansive, and lush soundscape ended up coming together…a very involved recording project.”
The credits include Schenectadians Slomka and mixing engineer Dane Orr, plus guitarist-bassist Kleederman, with strings, bassists, a singer, brass and reeds players. Goldberg wrote, arranged and produced, sang and played drums and keyboards. Chris Connors played guitar and helped mix and master the album.
Goldberg’s organic approach still left room for high-tech tinkering.
For the guitar solo in “Introe,” he and Kleederman “composed it, phrase by phrase,” he said, “then further edited it to create its final shape. By the end, the guitar is the most prominent voice on the song.”
He wrote out parts for his players, “but I left certain moments open for soloing,” he explained, “like Jared Yee’s tenor saxophone soloing on ‘Not Sure,’ which was better and more perfect for the song than I could have imagined.”
He set aside Anna Webber’s flute solo from “Typical” but “I ended up taking that solo, slowing it down, and using it…in ‘Transitione,’” he said. “I also grabbed some of the percussion parts from ‘Typical,’ slowed those down as well, and then drummed and added more sounds to the groove, and eventually cobbled that piece together. So yes, definitely a song that was born from collaboration, even if not in real-time!”
For all its studio craft, “Loste” feels smooth to the ear.
“Introe” swells into view gently, then more insistently as instruments join in a wave of welcome, until a final chord signals a stately baroque courtship dance of strings and wordless voice in “I Know You,” taking wing as an ethereal chorus.
“Typical” cruises through urban contemporary streetscapes on the biggest drumbeat heard so far, under filigrees of voices and guitar; the guitar takes the wheel late and steers a bold course.
Snare rimshots and reed swirls curl around massed voices in “This Feeling” – a song of exaltation.
More meditative is “Not Sure,” also more complex, with whistles and voices setting up a brooding transition that resolves onto sailing on sunnier seas, dotted with islands of dissonance.
“Transitione” grooves with flutes over an off-center beat clatter, a cheerful intro for “Stay the Same” that sets up a restless cello ostinato before singers and flutes stroll in and make themselves very much at home in its cozy melody.
“(King)” takes us in stately grace along a regal procession that draws in more and more musical marchers to achieve real majesty before a solo saxophone sings the suite to a close.
“These days, I teach some drum students virtually, work on percussion and recording projects for friends, and work on my next album and live set,” said Goldberg.
He said, “Before the plague (my term, in an interview by email) I did all those things, but taught more lessons and worked at a music rehearsal studio, and played in a bunch of bands, in addition to my project.”