The Conversational Dynamic of Mick Goodrick
Seeking out gems from an under-acknowledged master
Among the many curious features of the guitar solar system is a thriving, remarkably active orbit circling the tiny planet known as Mick Goodrick.
The improvising guitarist and educator, who died last week at age 77, was far from a star. He recorded sporadically as a leader, and was selective about his recording work as a sideman – he made four records with Gary Burton as part of the vibraphonist’s New Quartet in the early ‘70s, three with drummer Jack DeJohnette (including the xxx) and three with bassist Charlie Haden.
But Goodrick influenced generations of musicians. He did this primary as an educator at New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music in Boston, and as author of one of the most astute books on instrumental improvisation ever published, The Advancing Guitarist. Those who spent time in his studio include artists who radically expanded the palette (and techniques) of the electric guitar – John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Mike Stern, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Nir Felder and Julian Lage, among many others.
As his former students have noted in reverent tributes, Goodrick was the kind of educator who got students thinking. He mused. He asked questions. He avoided quick-fix licks and rule-based prescriptions, instead challenging players to think about micro and macro decisions on a chorus-by-chorus – sometimes note-by-note – basis.
That’s also exactly how he played. Goodrick was a master of the vanishing art of musical conversation. As both soloist and accompanist, he was propelled by curiosity. He drew collaborators out of safe zones and into an atmosphere of let’s-see-what-happens possibility, in which just a few tossed-off notes from his guitar could become pivotal. He understood that open, unpressurized space was a way to cultivate dialog; he supported soloists with a shifting array of syncopated jabs and crisp chording that registered as profound, partly a result of the vast spaces he left between them. Each of his volleys helped to build the energy of the solo, without dictating the direction it should go next. He shaped the temperament of the music in nearly invisible ways, from a distance.
Goodrick’s recorded legacy is small, but includes a staggering variety of examples of this conversational dynamic. On this oft-circulated duet from the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival, Goodrick and Pat Metheny seek out new melodic pathways through Jobim’s “Meditation.” Check the way Goodrick sets the table for Metheny, by doing the expected chording in unexpected ways.
Goodrick developed these tactics of almost subterranean provocation over decades. But his work on Burton’s 1973 The New Quartet shows he was oriented this way as a young musician.
Of the records under his own name, the 1979 In Pas(s)ing for ECM is the essential document, in part for the fitful and frequently telepathic discourse between Goodrick and woodwind master John Surman.
Goodrick adjusted his sparring, short-phrases approach to fit many genres — there are heated live clips on YouTube that capture him pursuing post-bop frontiers with master saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. Alongside those are more experimental improvisations, like “Minimal,” a duet with his student Muthspiel, on a 2010 recording from the Jazz Standard.
It’s no coincidence that some of Goodrick’s hallmarks are duo recordings: Working in close proximity to one other voice — often, another guitarist — he was able to do the zen magic of painting with tiny and deeply lyrical strokes. One of the most thrilling examples of this is Rare Birds, the nuanced 1993 meeting of Goodrick and another under-appreciated master guitarist, Joe Diorio. Delightfully interactive from start to finish, it’s an all-time classic of duo playing.