Beth Custer is a San Francisco-based musician who's known mainly as a clarinetist for the Club Foot Orchestra and taking part in the lively, vital Bay Area improv scene. This little platter ought to change that - Custer is a musician/composer of astonishing scope. She's plays a probing yet soulful clarinet and is a composer in the Carla Bley mold - which is to say that she's all over the map yet retains a unique focus. Like Bley, the inspiration of "world" music, Kurt Weill, Ellington, Charles Ives, Thelonius Monk, circus music, Stravinsky and more is felt, yet the effect is not a salad, but more of a stew, where Chinese & Appalachian twang stands beside blues-rich Ellingtonian orchestral textures.
Zappa argues with John Philip Souza on "Petnapping," and Custer's overdubbed clarinets sound like a chamber music group on the elegiac "I Will Be Sad In This Life." Most of the music is her own, but there's a truly moving cover of The Duke's "Echoes Of Harlem" scored for 5 clarinets. For the mad eclectics out there: crucial.