The Shirt I Slept In is a compilation of musical journeys taken by San Francisco composer, arranger, and clarinetist (she plays a little trumpet and sings as well) Beth Custer from 1990-1995. A look inside reveals Ms. Custer to play in some very heavy company; there are appearances here from Will Bernard, Ralph Carney, Ben Goldberg, Kenny Wollesen, Jai Uttal, Barbara Scott, Kenneth Newby, and others. To go into coinage of Custer's musical brain is like journeying through a fun house that has profound sights as well as insane ones, sitting next to, and, sometimes, right on top of one another. For starters, there's the swelling crescendo of "Train Song," with the horns -- a slew of them -- saxophones, clarinets, drums, and guitars playing a line repetitively until it breaks down into various tonal and timbral elements that seemingly spread out into one vast extension of that one line. On "Take/Places," percussion and droning guitar place the randomness of seemingly found sounds next to ordered Indian percussion and restrained, pizzicato lines on guitar, setting up a dynamic from random percussive elements and a renewed vigor in the rhythmic corner. When Bernard's guitar solos, it's within the context of this restraint, exotic, shimmering, forbidden. But it doesn't stop there; there are places where film noir jazz meets exotica, and post-serial composition ("Drop") follow, tunes based on folk melodies that are as full of longing and remembrance as anything you are likely to hear ("This Is Where I Am Now"). Through it all, Custer shows she possesses in spades what other composers pray for at night: vision. And while her technical chops are formidable enough to have played in the Club Foot Orchestra and to have gigged with Anthony Braxton, it is the former that distinguishes her from the pomo music pack.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek