Monday, October 9, 2023

The Dynamic Trio of Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart Impress at Portland's 1905 Jazz Club

Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings Bill Stewart

The dynamic organ/guitar/drum trio of Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, and Bill Stewart graced the stage of Portland's 1905 for two nights on October 3 & 4th. I was fortunate to attend the early set on the Wednesday show. Anytime you can see this trio live it is a special occasion. The New York Times Nate Chinen once said "Two of the best organ trios of the last decade have featured the same three players. Technically speaking, it’s just one group, variously billed ... Consisting of Mr. Goldings on organ, Mr. Bernstein on guitar, and Bill Stewart on drums..." High praise for this trio that never seems to be a hyperbolic claim and it certainly more than lived up to the expectations on this evening at the 1905, which always seems to get top-notch talent.

These guys have known each other since 1989 and their first recording titled Intimacy of the Blues was released in 1991. That's a thirty-two-year run- an impressive feat by any measure! While the members have, as both leaders and collaborators, followed many diverse projects with other musicians, their loyalty to each other is a lasting testimony to the true friendship and magical chemistry that these men have when they sit down and make music.

Larry Goldings is a talented keyboard artist who originally hailed from Boston. He studied classical piano as a youth and attended the Eastman School of Music. He moved to NYC in 1986 and attended the New School. At various times, Goldings studied with Ran Blake, Keith Jarrett, Jaki Byard, and Fred Hersch. In 1988 Goldings started to develop his B3 organ sound at a regular trio gig he procured at Augies' Jazz Bar (presently Smoke) in NYC with Bernstein and Stewart, and the rest is history. 

Goldings' distinctive sound is often compared to the enigmatic approach of Larry Young on the B3 and he credits the pianist Dave McKenna, a master of the left-hand bass line, as an inspiration for his own bass line abilities on the B3's foot pedals. His unique approach to the instrument made his services in demand as a sideman for various artists in the worlds of pop, rock, Brazilian, R&B, alternative, as well as jazz. Goldings has collaborated with the likes of John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny, along with popular artists like Beck, Tracy Chapman, Norah Jones, and Rickie Lee Jones.

Peter Bernstein is a native of NYC. He attended classes at Rutgers and the New School. He studied guitar with Ted Dunbar and piano with Kenny Barron. He was twenty-three when he was offered a spot to perform at the JVC Jazz Festival by guitarist Jim Hall in 1990. Bernstein has performed with Brad Mehldau, Jimmy Cobb, Lee Konitz, Eric Alexander, Joshua Redman, and Dr. Lonnie Smith to name a few.   

The drummer Bill Stewart was raised in the midwest in Des Moines, Iowa. He was largely self-taught but attended William Patterson College under the direction of bassist Rufus Reid. There he studied drums under one-time Bill Evans drummer Eliot Zigmund and Horacee Arnold. After moving to NYC, he joined guitarist John Scofield's Quartet and Goldings and Bernstein in the trio. Stewart has collaborated with Joe Lovano, Chris Potter, Dave Holland, Larry Grenadier, Steve Wilson, Pat Martino, and other notables.

On this set, the trio warmed up the audience with a melodically rich classic, Gus Arnheim's  "Sweet and Lovely." Opening with Bernstein's toasty-sounding hollow-bodied guitar, which has a burnished, Wes Montgomery-like tone. Goldings enters, adding his Leslie speaker-armed B3 to the mix with his eerie ability to utilize his instrument's modulating powers to swell and ebb in simpatico collaboration. Stewart's penchant for melodicism on his skins and cymbals carries the rhythm with poise. These guys have a rapport that is almost telepathic, a sensory experience that makes you believe they have learned to tap the creative ether and can evoke that common mind space almost at will. 

After playing a pretty, new composition by Stewart titled "Turquoise," Goldings' takes the mic and dons his alter ego personality- a dry, tongue-in-cheek humorist  who uses subtle sarcasm to introduce or maybe not the next tune, Goldings' own composition "Mr. Meagles." Meagles is a character from Dickens' novel Little Dorrit, which to be honest, I have never read, so I can't assume to know why Goldings called this one by that name. To my knowledge, the song was first heard in 2014 on the trios recording Ramshakle Serenade. Goldings activates a small electronic device that slightly synthesizes/modulates the sound of his Hammond B3. The music has an ostinato-based groove established by Berstein's guitar and Goldings' organ. It's a slow-building simmer that has a stealth-like funk to it. Bernstein's probing, warm guitar sets the melody line and Goldings' pulse-like keyboard work sets the groove, all propelled by Stewart's creative cymbal and trap work. When Goldings does solo he always fastidiously maintains the bass line while exploring the harmonic possibilities using creativity and alternate voicings. Stewart's roiling drum solo is another treat to behold. This song keeps the audience bopping their heads to the infectious beat.

The group picks up the pace with a Gary Bartz song "Libra" that they recently included in their latest Smoke Records release Perpetual Pendulum.  Stewart starts out this one with a repeating, stabbing snare and bass drum line before Berstein's guitar and Goldings' organ play a swift, synchronous counter line that sets up the tension in this song. Goldings' bass lines are rhythmic and in the groove while he accentuates Bernstein's lead guitar lines brilliantly. Berstein fills with fleet single lines and well-placed chordal accents like a master impressionist. Like a freed bird, Bernstein releases a flow of ideas that are exhilarating. When the keyboard wizard takes his turn out front he offers a series of swirling, swelling, and modulating lines that drive this one into a frenzy of joyous and inspired excitement. Not to be left behind, Stewart explodes in a carefully controlled solo that is beautifully melodic and intuitive.

The group follows these two smokers with Bernstein's gorgeous take on the Ralph Rainer ballad "Easy Living" which the guitarist originally played with organist Melvyn Rhymes in 2009. There is nothing like a melody so expertly executed and explored by three so in-tune musicians. The classic Burt Bacharach song "This Guys In Love With You" was originally recorded and made popular by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1968. It's always nice to be an old favorite reimagined in a modern way and these guys took this gem and made it their own. The set ended with a Peter Bernstein catchy composition "Jive Coffee" originally recorded on his album Signs of Life from 2090 and re-released on his All Too Real (Live) from 2017. This swaying, joyful song has Bernstein/Goldings/Stewart finding their groove, allowing the song to inspire a free, exquisite interaction of expression that left the audience joyful and grateful. 

If you have the opportunity to see these guys you will not be disappointed.

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