Ben Goldberg and Michael Coleman Credit: courtesy the artists

Bay Area clarinetist Ben Goldberg thrives in sparse settings, where the sere bite of his melodically fluid lines can stand out in stark contrast to surrounding silence. He’s got a keen sense of time, and some of his strongest efforts have been drummer-free projects, such as his new duo recording with New York cornetist Kirk Knuffke. The music on Uncompahgre (Relative Pitch) is fully improvised; each player adroitly complements the other’s spontaneous melodic fragments and breaks off into sudden counterpoints that force fleeting redirection. They don’t feel the need to fill all the space with sound; instead they leave potent gaps that imbue each utterance with greater weight. The music of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy clearly influenced that aspect of Goldberg’s playing: Lacy made many solo recordings where his improvisations proceeded in exquisitely patient, measured motions, their silences as much about architecture as they were about moments of repose to plan the next gambit. In 1986 Lacy released one of his more obscure solo records, Hocus Pocus, which contained a series of difficult exercises and studies he’d made to develop his own practice. Lacy gave Goldberg a copy of the record in Paris following a private lesson, and on Practitioner (BAG), Goldberg’s new duo album with keyboardist Michael Coleman, the clarinetist has tackled those thorny etudes in an expanded fashion. Sometimes the musicians play melodies in unison, but more often they create shadowy, weird arrangements; Coleman lays down appealingly wheezy, sometimes distorted blankets of sound on electronic keyboards and synthesizers, while Goldberg threads through them or creates biting dissonance against them. Goldberg impresses with his handling of Lacy’s complex, jagged lines, but it’s even more fun to hear him and Coleman reenvision them as modular experiments, juggling repeating and refracting phrases.   v