Agony Pipes and Misery Sticks
Beth Custer has been active on the San Francisco music scene for a long time. She’s been a member of Club Foot Orchestra, Eight Mile Beach and leads her own ensembles. Her disc Respect as a Religion was one of the most compelling political albums of 2005. Custer is one of those instrumentalists who seems at home in any setting. Her group, The Beth Custer Ensemble, plays jazz funk that would make Gil Scott Heron proud, while her experimental groups like Sandbox Trio please the avant-garde nerd in me. Then Clarinet Thing showed up in mailbox.
Clarinet Thing is exactly that: a group made up entirely of clarinet players. Before you go running from the room with flashbacks of high school band rooms scotching your cranium, I should point out that Clarinet Thing employs the full range of the clarinet family. The best songs on this disc make full use of the clarinet’s dynamic range. I have a fondness for the songs where the bass and contrabass clarinets come into their own. Their rich, woody low tones give “Echoes of Harlem” and “The Lips That Kissed the Paper” a wonderful foundation on which to build.
Agony Pipes and Misery Sticks is a compilation of material culled from 15 years of live recordings. There are a few tracks that just don’t do it for me here. While I love the jazz standards and most of the original compositions, the beer hall yodel of “Oberek Krakowski” grates on my nerves. Oh well, there is more than enough good material here to put up with a song or two that miss the mark.
Beth Custer: www.bethcuster.com