Album reviews

Brandon Goldberg – ‘In Good Time’

Brandon Goldberg – In Good Time 
(SR – BSG10002. Album review by Leonard Weinreich)

Brandon Goldberg is fifteen years old. That’s right, fifteen.

Afficionados don’t often witness the earliest performances of jazz prodigies, nearly always drummers and pianists. Buddy Rich, also known as ‘Kid Traps’ on the vaudeville circuit, was drumming at two years old. Vic Feldman was amazing the public with his drumming aged seven, moving to piano when he was nine. Herbie Hancock performed a Mozart concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was eleven. Thirteen-year-old Benny Goodman dazzled dancers at gigs. Billy Strayhorn wrote the most elevated art song in jazz, ‘Lush Life’, while still in his teens. Fortunately, some budding talents like Oscar Peterson and the elusive Peter Delano were recorded when very young. And now, Brandon Goldberg, aged fifteen.

Inevitably with jazz juvenilia, it’s blazing chops rather than profound content that pin back the ears. But this album takes a further step: In Good Time is Goldberg’s second release, an emphatic statement to indicate that artistic development has rendered his lack of years irrelevant. Ignore my age, he’s saying. Concentrate on the sounds. Of the ten tracks, half the titles are his originals.

Track one is his composition, Authority, which starts unexpectedly with an answering machine message from the album’s drummer and associate producer, Ralph Peterson, who sadly died before its release and to whom the album is dedicated. So, while the title ‘Authority’ might represent a tribute to his late drummer, it might coincidentally refer to Goldberg’s staking a claim for peer attention. Whatever, an energetic flurry of forcefully repeated chords cue Stacy Dillard’s tenor and Josh Evans’ trumpet to embark on a tight unison line before splitting and letting loose in energetic solos. Then it’s the turn of the leader who’s developed a style best described as barnstorming, before a return to the head and an abrupt finish. The next original, Circles, features Dillard’s soprano and a contemplative solo by the composer which becomes an intriguing soprano/piano conversation.

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Goldberg’s Time is an extended piece, serene with a catchy theme eloquently stated by Evans’ trumpet over the leader’s encouraging comping and Luques Curtis’ rocksteady bass. Dillard’s entrance on soprano enhances the stately atmosphere until the composer takes his turn and shakes the mood with a confident strut, his right hand sculpting tumbling figures at the piano’s top end like an updated Basie or John Lewis. Wayne Shorter’s imperious Nefertiti, with precise and inventive precision drumming from Peterson, is an ensemble exercise. The reharmonised horns restate the melody repeatedly, initially in unison, but then lurching out of sync until they’re stepping on one another’s toes, eventually smudging the edges of each other’s sounds.

Thus far into the album, Goldberg has demonstrated that he can do fast and slow, ruminative and daredevil. But what about the elders? Can he handle the intricacies of Thelonious Monk’s repertoire, a necessity for any emerging jazz pianist? Listen to his trio performance of Monk’s Dream and judge for yourself. Peterson’s intelligent drumming shows why he was revered and will be deeply missed.

Next, Goldberg persuades a Fender Rhodes to sing Victor Young’s evocative Stella By Starlight. Evans and Dillard share the wistful theme before weaving in and out of one another’s solos until, without forewarning, a precipitate stop. Dramatic. Just like that. Then it’s the turn of what Ralph Peterson used to call “funk with a limp”: nine-minutes of El Procrastinador with its hypnotic 7/4 pulse established by piano, bass and drums before the pianist and horns get on down.

Having dealt with fast, slow, Monk and funk, how does Goldberg approach the classic showtune repertoire? Choosing a fine example, he performs George and Ira Gershwin’s yearning Someone To Watch Over Me unaccompanied with lashings of respect (he states the verse) and carefully considered individuality (expressive phrasing, harmonic substitutions and dynamics), clearly signalling a sense of purpose to the wider piano-playing community and other interested parties that, young though his hands might be, they’re a pretty damn safe pair.

Goldberg’s final composition (and the intended finale) on the album is an up-tempo Ninety-Six, featuring spirited contributions from everyone. But, following over an hour of extraordinary music, a surprise encore: trumpeter Antoine Drye steps in to join Goldberg for a spare and almost unadorned duet version of Stephen Sondheim’s melancholy Send In The Clowns arranged by Jonathan Lefcoski.

Fifteen? Would you believe it? Perhaps maturity is overrated.

In Good Time is released on Friday 17th September

LINK: Brandon Goldberg’s website

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