Live reviews

Larry Goldings / Peter Bernstein / Bill Stewart Trio at Pizza Express Dean Street

Larry Goldings / Peter Bernstein / Bill Stewart – Perpetual Pendulum

(Pizza Express Dean Street, 4 March 2023. Second House. Live review by Gabriel Taylor)

L-R: Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart, Larry Goldings. Photo Harvey Cullis

It’s often the case that the musicians who can take you to a fascinating place in your head achieve it by first making you feel relaxed. This long-standing trio’s ability to immediately intrigue and gain an audience’s trust is striking, driven by their beat which falls so satisfyingly into place that it seems almost effortless, obvious even, as the endlessly fresh and assured ideas take off. Larry Goldings (organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Bill Stewart (drums) make up one of the most admired and grooviest ensembles of the last 30 years, each a master of their instrument and imitated the world over.

This final, sold-out performance in London at Pizza Express Dean Street was a lesson in fluency and class, consistently finding beauty between the extremes and then knocking you flat with moments of precise intensity.

‘Fagen’ from the trio’s 2018 album Toy Tunes featured the organ as a time machine – hints of Bach fugues, hymns, spirituals and ecstatic soul all flew out during Goldings’ solo, framed by his comprehensive range of tones which he moved between freely like a fine artist changing brushstrokes. He’s a musician who understands the power of familiarity in an unfamiliar context – his mesmerising, fractured introduction to Thelonious Monk’s ‘Misterioso’ brought a dissonant take on a nursery rhyme and then later imitated the tones of dial-up internet before launching into the blues.

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Larry Goldings. Photo by Harvey Cullis

Goldings spoke with his signature brand of humour and introduced ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’, a tribute to songwriter Burt Bacharach who passed away just a few weeks ago. The tender interpretation gave way to an organ solo which travelled far from the simplicity of the melody, and still carried the delicate feel even to its limits. After Bernstein’s impeccable choruses, the melody closed with a swell from Stewart’s cymbals and the throbbing organ that rose and fell with a contour so perfectly aligned it felt as though they were one.

‘Libra’ by one-time Jazz Messenger Gary Bartz followed, rousing the audience with Stewart’s distinctive fast, swinging ride patterns and rich-toned kit inventions. Again, the ensemble quietly did the impossible as Goldings’ left hand and Bernstein’s comping weaved around each other, never stepping on any toes, and at times seemed indistinguishable during the burning Hammond solo (this particular instrument and Leslie speaker were generously lent by the UK’s own organ trio leader Ross Stanley).

Bernstein is no stranger to sharing the stage with organists, having recorded albums with Dr Lonnie Smith and Melvin Rhyne, who was sideman to Wes Montgomery and B.B King. His understated tone and faultless touch turned ear-bending phrases into moments which required no energy to enjoy, and the calm pacing and expressivity of his solo cadenzas brought stillness to even the packed basement of Pizza Express.

Stewart’s ballad playing was subtle, considered and unbelievably steady, but contained so many incredible textures that it was as exciting to listen to as any of the up-tempo tunes, which of course he delivered on as well. He simultaneously carries the tradition of earlier melodic drummers such as Art Blakey and Max Roach and asserts his own envied style that felt so familiar after hearing countless players attempt to imitate his flow and sense of unstoppable momentum.

The evening concluded with two Peter Bernstein compositions: ‘Jive Coffee’, considered by many to be a modern-day jazz standard, first recorded on his 1995 record Signs of Life, and the more recent ‘Blood Wolf Moon Blues’ (2020) – a big finish to a set characterised by its profound musical maturity and masterful execution.

Perpetual Pendulum is out now on Smoke Session Records

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