Nick Bewsey, February 2015

Nick Bewsey has been writing about jazz for ICON since 2004 and is a member of The Jazz Journalists Assoc. He also participates in DownBeat’s Annual International Critics Poll.


Aaron Goldberg ★★★★1/2

The Now


     Pianist Aaron Goldberg is a consistently nuanced player who can find a vein of swing in nearly every composition he plays, which gives his trio recording, The Now, a leg up on the competition. A tremendous improviser, Goldberg has crafted an accessible album of songs

with smooth curves and sharp corners.

     The album demonstrates Goldberg’s heady romanticism,

culled from his favorite Brazilian love songs, along with

wonderfully obscure jazz tracks by Charlie Parker and Warne

Marsh and his own compelling, introspective originals. His

extraordinary collaborators for the past sixteen years, bassist

Rueben Rogers and drummer/percussionist Eric Harland, are

exquisitely tuned to the pianist’s range and depth of feeling. 

     The trio leads with “Trocando Em Miudos,” a heartfelt tune

by Chico Buarque (a much beloved Brazilian poet, lyricist and

singer) with a lush, bittersweet melody that’s highlighted by

Harland’s subtle plays on the snare. The fast turns that outline

the Parker tune (“Perhaps”) is a dazzler, where Goldberg plays

the theme slightly faster with one hand and slower with the

other, the trio underscoring its meter with deft improvisation. Tunes by Djavan and Toninho Horta keep the band in the southern hemisphere with modern, earthy arrangements. Like a gust of wind, Goldberg fits more notes into the speedball tempo of “Background Music,” the most energetic track off The Now. It’s the odd tune out and not indicative of the recording, but it stands out as a thrilling high-wire act combining technical fireworks with a giddy display of Goldberg’s virtuosity.

     A reunion takes place on “One Life,” the closer and a highly personal Goldberg original where guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel sits in. Goldberg was Rosenwinkel’s former pianist (The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard), and the trio’s interplay, paired with the guitarist’s ethereal playing, gives the track a futuristic patina that unfolds like a dream-like story. (10 tracks; 53 minutes)

The Michael Blum Quartet ★★★★



     The up-and-coming Michael Blum makes an impressive and vital debut with Initiation, and a persuasive case for straight-ahead guitar jazz. Forgetting for a moment that this precocious 20-year-old New Hampshire native has forged an accessible modern sound with a rooted connection to jazz masters like Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel and early George Benson, Blum embraces an intimacy with his material and dispatches a thoughtful set list with the surprising sureness of a more experienced musician.

     With chops and good taste, the guitarist delivers a buttery version of “Stella By Starlight” and a bluesy, soulful read of Thad Jones’ lovely ballad “A Child Is Born,” two standards that his quartet refreshes through sparkling arrangements tailor-made for Blum’s clean, round tone. It’s a comforting sound whether he’s on nylon string, acoustic or electric guitar. Credit producer, bassist and Blum’s teacher, Jim Stinnett for sustaining a warm vibe that gives the band, including pianist Brad Smith and drummer Dom Moio plenty of opportunity to cook and swing on a diverse set of tunes (highlighted by the record’s best track, “Castle Rock”). Enthusiastically recommended, this first album by the melodically gifted Blum will leave you swooning. (Amazon, iTunes) (10 tracks; 64 minutes)


Red Garland Trio ★★★★★

Swingin’ on the Korner: Live at Keystone Korner


         Pianist Red Garland was an integral member of the Miles Davis Quintet and a key collaborator with John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins, at a time when those leaders were swelling in popularity during the late 50s and early 60s. A player in the hard bop style, Garland also led his own bands mostly for the Prestige and Galaxy labels until he

passed away in 1983, with many of his

recordings still available. He was a

master of swing and lyricism, and his

solos and records remain as influential

as ever with today’s up and coming

jazz musicians. Yet, curiously,

Garland’s fame and status as a top-tier

pianist was never as fully appreciated

as peers like Nat Cole or Ahmad Jamal—both stylistic contemporaries back in the day.

     Swingin’ on the Korner is one of

those jazz time machine discoveries, a previously unreleased live date from December 1977, recorded at the Keystone Korner club in San Francisco. It’s a two-CD release (or as a three-LP audiophile vinyl package) with the renowned drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Leroy Vinnegar that has been remastered and near magically brought back to listenable form from the club’s original soundboard tapes – cassette tapes, if you can believe that. It’s a generous package with cool photography, well-written liner notes and insightful interviews and essays from Nat Hentoff, Ira Gitler, Kenny Washington and others in a well-produced 44-page included booklet.

     However, the music is where it’s at. This was at a time when Tin Pan Alley tunes, Broadway stuff, “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Autumn Leaves,” and songs by Cole Porter (“Love For Sale”) are shuffled freely within the set list with jazz standards by Monk (“Straight No Chaser”) and Milt Jackson (“Bags’ Groove”). This music is what people wanted to hear back then and what guys like Garland played so well; the inclusion of “Billy Boy (which Garland practically owned) is a highlight. The time of year gives Garland permission to add his take on Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” but the flow is tight so you’ll be thinking jazz instead of snowflakes. It’s easy to hear that Garland and his trio are intimately connected to the material, playing with rhythmic swing and smooth harmonics against hard beats and sweet melodies.

     It’s been over 30 years since the pianist passed away. A monster release like Swingin on the Korner serves to give him the props he fully deserves —and makes a perfect starting point to meet Red Garland. (Disc One, 8 tracks; 59 minutes/Disc Two, 8 tracks; 71 minutes)