One of the most consistently satisfying straight-ahead jazz outfits, the Larry Goldings Trio joins the Palmetto Records roster with the fine Moonbird
. Goldings has made his mark on the Hammond organ as a sideman with the likes of John Scofield, Jim Hall, Chris Potter, and Maceo Parker. His long-standing trio, with Peter Bernstein on guitar and Bill Stewart on drums, can be seen and heard nearly every week at Small’s in New York. Moonbird
is representative of the group’s intimate-yet-fiery live sound. It’s some of Goldings’s strongest and most focused work to date.
The disc features a variety of feels and moods, from the bayou rhythm of "Crawdaddy" to the contemplative dissonance of "Empty Oceans." Three mid-tempo numbers, "Moonbird," "Christine," and "Comfort Zone," come closest to what I would call this trio’s signature sound—a breezy and lyrical yet aggressive swing. Listen as Bernstein attacks the melody at the bridge on the lovely title track. This is a pure and sublime hard bop moment, and the trio knows just how to milk it for all it’s worth. "Xoloft" is another hard bop highlight with a quicker tempo. Bernstein is riveting as he darts from high to low register yet never loses sight of the next perfect phrase. And Stewart’s unaccompanied solo is characteristically shrewd.
Two pop covers appear. I’ve never been a fan of the pop/rock cover trend in jazz, and Goldings has certainly shown lapses in this regard in the past—take the Sanborn-scarred "Boogie On Reggae Woman" from his 1995 Warner Brothers release Whatever It Takes
. Here, however, his reading of Joni Mitchell’s "Woodstock" as a slow straight-eighth jam genuinely works, as does his gospel-tinged rendering of Randy Newman’s "I Think It’s Going to Rain Today."
The record closes with a hidden track—a reprise of "Empty Oceans," but this time with Goldings extemporizing beautifully over the theme on acoustic piano. Perhaps because we’re used to the thick, heavy sound of the organ, Goldings’s piano playing sounds uncommonly fluid and free. A pretty end to an exceptionally pretty album.