Review: Aaron Goldberg / Reuben Rogers/ Eric Harland

Aaron Goldberg, Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland
Pizza Express, December 2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved.  

Aaron Goldberg / Reuben Rogers/ Eric Harland
(Pizza Express, Dean Street, Sunday 4 December 2011; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Aaron Goldberg recently asserted that “the way… communication happens on the bandstand really is a great model for how communication ought to happen in the rest of the world, and you can see that bands that really get along onstage always move an audience.”* His tremendous trio with Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland is a shining example of this principle in practice. That the three of them made the time to play together in the intimate surroundings of the Pizza Express was a mouthwatering prospect.

Goldberg’s credentials are impressive and take in four years of touring and recording with Joshua Redman, six months with Wynton Marsalis’s quartet, and various collaborations with Kurt Rosenwinkel; he’s also performed with many other jazz notables including Betty Carter, Al Foster, Freddie Hubbard and Madeline Peyroux.

The rhythm section of Rogers and Harland was seen at the Barbican a year ago as members of Charles Lloyd’s breathtaking quartet, and the keen anticipation that marked their return with Goldberg was amply rewarded. They, too, have strings of impeccable credentials and are two of the most in-demand musicians around.

The mutual respect and camaraderie that these three exceptional musicians have fostered over the 10 years they have worked together underwrites every aspect of their performance. It is a team game, but it is not competitive, it is supportive, and this is what made it such a special experience for the receptive audience at Dean Street.

They enjoyed a kinetic, probing dialogue, asserting each musician’s independence within their integrated platform. Themes rooted in the popular and jazz repertoires were thoughtfully stated and, just when it seemed that a closing passage has been reached, the trio turned a tune on its head and used it as a springboard to head off into open-ended zones where their interdependence encouraged new iterations of the initial statements. Not without discipline – quite the contrary – their schooling and experience has ingrained an understanding of the “language of jazz” and a rigorous mastery of their instruments – prerequisites to the fulfillment of Goldberg’s “dream of becoming an improvising jazz musician for a living”*.

There was a positive tension in the ways that they played out the challenges they set themselves. Concentration and an alertness to every nuance and movement allowed the freedom to explore. It was far more subversive than it seemed on the surface. Even the principle of the solo was subverted – unusually, at no point were the mooring ropes cut; two musicians were always there in the background, in unison, just dropping in a beat or a note or a minimal statement of a song’s structure to give skeleton support to the musician in the spotlight, following every note with a smile. When Rogers took a seat, holding his bass by his side as Harland flew into an intense percussive flow, he remained fully engaged, offering, with Goldberg, a pattern of judiciously placed notes to light the way.

It was a case of ‘less notes, more happening’ for much of their dynamic ninety minute set – there were no signs of embellishment, nothing florid, even when the pace changed from the purely melodic to a racetrack speed. Material was drawn from the albums ‘Home’, ‘Worlds’ and ‘Bienestan’ – which Goldberg, with his broad agenda, described as “an imaginary country … in the recesses of your mind – [where] only good things happen …”. The haunting Manhã de Carnaval (from Black Orpheus), with its touches of bossa and an initially spare interpretation saw both Goldberg and Harland negotiate daunting rhythmic conundrums – going in and out of temporal step, but never losing it for an instant.

Goldberg is a deliberate player, yet he spared the Steinway, and spun off into bright, beautifully controlled flights, pushed to the limits, his light touches complemented by Harland’s brushes and taps and Rogers’ supple, muted bass lines. As Harland touched the cymbals with a soft mallet and then held them to let them shimmer, Goldberg reached in to the back of the piano to add timbres. Harland patted the toms, Rogers bowed, keeping in with the piano and took out the next number with a diminuendo after a lively brush with calypso.

Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland
Pizza Express, December 2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved.

Rogers burst into a mellow, plucked solo, whooped, “Hey, Aaron Goldberg,” before they unleashed Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely?‘ in its full glory from a spacious, lingering starting block – and then left the audience hanging on an extended silence – which, by then, they’d learnt was not the conclusion – and closed this great set with a bluesy hint woven in to its fabric.

Harland engaged informally with young musicians after the set to discuss the importance of learning from previous generations of jazz musicians, a generous, open gesture which summed up the spirit of the evening perfectly.

( * Josh Jackson interview with Aaron Goldberg on WBGO for NPR, February 2011)

Categories: miscellaneous

1 reply »

  1. A very insightful, perspicacious and well written review of a mind-blowingly beautiful set of what should be listed as one of the ultimate current Post-Bop Jazz Trios. I have a new favourite in this genre now, right next to the Brad Mehldau Trio.

    May I add that Aaron, Reuben and Eric are also extremely nice, relaxed and open blokes off the band stand. Perfect communication all 'round.

Leave a Reply