Review: Larry Goldings Trio at Ronnie Scott’s

Photo credit: Scott Engelhardt (creative commons)

Larry Goldings Trio 
(Ronnie Scott’s, 9th January 2013. Review by Alison Bentley)

Hammond player Larry Goldings has called this trio his ‘truest group’, and he’s been playing with Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Bill Stewart (drums) for over 20 years: they’re a trio of equals. Ronnie’s audience was packed with jazz-players paying tribute to these musicians’ musicians.

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The gig had a sense of moving back and forth through jazz history- the trio sounded simultaneously traditional and modern. Their standards sounded ‘slightly modernised’ (Goldings). Spring is Here began with a Hammond solo intro, with Messaien-like harmonies. Goldings used the Hammond’s expression pedal to communicate exquisite emotion: sudden volume spikes in the midst of the swirling, unexpectedly dissonant, harmonies. As the tune started to swing, Goldings threw his head back in concentration, as if coaxing the sound from the instrument, or trying to calm an unruly horse- he and the Hammond were in this together! The guitar cut through the dry papery organ sound like scissors, using the volume knob like the Hammond pedal, hanging around on the tense diminished chord. Nobody Else But Me from Showboat (‘I know my shit,’ quipped Goldings) began with Bernstein’s gorgeous Jim Hall-esque chord-melody solo. Bernstein’s recorded many Monk tunes, and some pleasingly unusually pianistic intervals often appeared in his solos. (Unlike Goldings’ YouTube comic alter ego, Hans Groiner, who ‘makes the music of Monk more accessible’!)

In Puttin’ on the Ritz they emphasised the lopsided shape of the melody with stops. Golding’s keyboard bass lines were impossibly fast. His solo had wholesome bluesy phrases, with a spicy peppering of dissonant notes, over Stewart’s flawless swing time. Bernstein likes to improvise from ‘a feeling of wanting to change the melody’, and fragments of the tune came out very clearly in his solo, blended with atonal abstract motifs. Golding’s melodic solo had repeated phrases bubbling up like an underground spring.

Goldings likes to voice his chords chorally- perhaps, in the hard-boppish Chant, like the real choir on Donald Byrd’s 60’s recording. Stewart’s gentle swing reinforced the high points of the tune with surprisingly loud cymbal accents- dramatic dynamics. The guitar, with its clear, clean sound, played perfectly-placed simple phrases, with some quavers rushed together, like BB King singing the blues.

Their original tunes had strong links with jazz tradition. Bernstein’s Jive Coffee (over the chords for Tea for Two in 5/4) was a drum highlight- was he really playing a 4/4 reggae groove while Bernstein and Goldings kept the 5 feel going? The crowd roared its approval. Little Green Men was Bernstein’s tribute to hero Grant Green, with its understated bluesy phrasing and thick-stringed sound- yet both he and Goldings used modern-sounding slices of the melodic minor in their solos.

Golding’s Pegasus began with a Ligeti-like solo- he literally pulled out all the stops, showing all the colours of the instrument, in mystical right hand chords and swooping left hand solos. Elsewhere he’s quoted his mentor Keith Jarrett on improvisation: it should sound like you’re playing ‘something inevitable.’ He doesn’t often increase the speed of the Leslie tremolo, but when he does it takes your breath away- the ‘human sound’ he loves in the the instrument. Both he and Stewart have worked with Maceo Parker, and the groove became funky but spacious, using sus chords to explore the ambivalence of the blues- is it major or minor?- uplifting and saddening at the same time. The sweet gospel harmonies were ‘taking liberties with simplicity’ (Golding’s words). It faded away to nothing, as the audience were entranced and the snake folded back into the basket.

Bill Stewart’s 6/8 tune The Acrobat (Goldings: ‘Bill plays the part of the acrobat in this one’). Stewart could have been juggling, or spinning plates- the kit took on a life of its own as he leaned from side to side, attending to whatever the drums seemed to be doing, from huge ringing crashes to delicate rolls that chimed with the fast Leslie tremolo. His rhythmic ideas were so clear you could sometimes almost sing along with them. Bernstein’s spoken of the importance of musical conversations, and some of the gig’s highlights came when they were vamping at the ends of the tunes. As at the end of The Acrobat, there was a special feeling as the three had some of their wittiest conversations.

Goldings advocates thinking orchestrally, and this trio had an amazingly full sound. They put together their extraordinary individual skills so intuitively, that they sounded – to quote one of their album titles – As One.

Larry Goldings is at Ronnie Scott’s with John Scofield, Mar. 3rd and 4th

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