Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get to Know: Aaron Goldberg

Aaron Goldberg is one of the young, extremely talented pianists who I hope will be recognized as such this year with the recent releases of two absolutely compelling recordings, "Bienestan", with Guillermo Klein in 2011, and "Yes", just out this month and featuring Goldberg with Ali Jackson on drums and Omer Avital on bass.

Goldberg is a Bostonian and began his jazz education in high school under the tutelage of  Bob Sinicrope and Jerry Bergonzi, the latter in particular a well known recording artist on saxophone with High Note Records. Goldberg graduated from Harvard in 1996, and also took a year of training at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He relocated to New York after school, and worked and toured with such notables as Joshua Redman, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton,  Stefon Harris, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra among others. He also began working with, and then recording as a co-leader with the trio OAM, a collaboration with Avital and Marc Miralta on drums.

The OAM Trio: (L to R)Omer Avital, Marc Miralta and Aaron Goldberg
                             TRIO OAM: Avital, Miralta, and Goldberg

He really came to the fore with his first Sunnyside recording, "Worlds", in 2006, followed in 2010 by "Home", also on Sunnyside. Both featured Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland on bass and drums respectively, with guests -- Mark Turner on "Home" and Kurt Rosenwinkel and Luciana Souza on "Worlds." Both discs reflect the soul and expression that Goldberg brings to his work, as well as his compositional abilities. His piano playing is rich with the nuarnces of his touch -- light and dexterious at times, deep and percussive at others. But at all times, the beauty of the melodies are foremost in each track, as well as the interplay among the members of the trio and guest solosts. These two discs set the stage for what I think are two tremendous recordings.

CD cover: Home"Bienestan" (Sunnyside 2011), unlike the previous two entries in his discography, is a collaborative venture -- Goldberg is a co-leader with Klein, there are other remarkable players --Miguel Zenon, Matt Penman, Chris Cheek, and Eric Harland. Goldberg is the starring pianist, while the compositions and arrangements were done by Klein, who plays Fender Rhodes keyboard as a complementary instrument to the piano.  On some tracks Miguel Zenón and Chris Cheek complement the work of Goldberg and Klein, weaving lovely background harmonies around the keyboard players, but also taking a number of  vibrant solos. When the entire ensemble plays, with Matt Penman on bass and Eric Harland on drums, the dynamism of the team and of the compositional work by Klein intensifies, with rhythmic changes and  shifting leads. Goldberg's technical abilities are clear on the two versions of the  Brazilian classic "Manhà de Carnaval" (Morning of Carnival), with his expressive play, light touch and  oustanding speed and dexterity.  Meanwhile, Klein's compositions are always finding the romanticism within each song, always with a trace of his Argentinian roots.  

"Yes" is a straight trio outing, with Omer Avital and Ali Jackson, friends with whom Goldberg has played with since school. Their rapport is felt intantaneously on Abdullah Ibrahim's Maraba Blue"when the first track starts with the bass and drums followed by a very quiet piano. The three interwoven instruments play  the song slowly and quietly throughout, with waves of small cresendos and a very nice bluesy, gospel feel. The piece ends as it began, with the drums and bass gradually taking the trio out. Other compositions by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Mercer Ellington, and Eli Degibri, are interspersed with compositions by Avital and Jackson. The balance of the three players is impressive, and though the piano clearly takes most of the melodic leads, there are ample times when the other two instruments come to the front ("Yes").  The blues are never far away, and when the music starts swinging, the intensity and joyous interplay coupled with outstanding lyricism and melodic play will bring a smile to any listener's face. This is some of the best straight-ahead piano trio music I have heard for some time -- never overplayed, no great fireworks but plenty of expression, always tight and modulated,  plenty of room for each player to be featured -- the music is outstanding throughout.

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