Charles "Ned" Goold is as distinctive an inside-outside tenor player as there is, and he should be a household name given the luck he's had with employment. Besides fronting his own trio on several CDs, he has been a mainstay of Harry Connick Jr.'s bands since the early '90s. Goold's unique tone combines something of the cool, sharp delivery of Sonny Rollins and Archie Shepp with the breathy insistence of Ben Webster and subtle phraseology of Gerry Mulligan.
That sound first caught my ear on Connick's To See You album of 1997, which let the saxophonist help set the disc's tone on such bittersweet ballads as "Heart Beyond Repair." Since then I've striven to pick out Goold's playing in unlikely settings, such as his brief solo with Connick's big band at halftime during the 2001 NBA All-Star Game and a free concert by his trio at New York's New School University in 2003. Yet he garners nary a mention in most jazz press other than as sideman to his big time boss.
Goold's solo albums veer away from the Sinatra standards and second-line swing that make up much of Connick's fare, although both artists stretched out on Connick's all-original 2003 CD, Other Hours. The Flows was recorded during summer 1999, when Connick asked Goold to open for him during his American tour. The group includes bassist Ben Wolfe, another longtime Connick band member who played on Goold's 1998 solo debut, Goold, and drummer Ron Steen, and the two complement Goold's playing intuitively, giving a mostly mid-tempo foundation to the reedist's free bop.
The disc shows off Goold's Monk-like compositions, such as the spiraling, moody "Edsol" and the similar "Whatness of Allhorse." His stylish covers, including the jaunty cool bop of "Susie," "Heigh Ho, the Gang's All Here" and Cole Porter's "Rosalie," are full of intriguing soloing that builds from the songs' catchy themes.
Occasionally a song falls short. Everytime I hear "Fell Harvest," I'm reminded of the Benny Hill Show song, and "Michael vs. Mikan," with its up-and-down scales, evokes a student's practice session more than a clever songwriter's best work. But overall The Flows reveals a sonic craftsman and his co-conspirators exploring the inner workings of straight-ahead jazz with an ear toward edgy yet melodious meandering.
Smalls Records is named after the defunct Manhattan jazz club known for its economical concerts featuring artists who don't tend to wind up on glossy magazine covers or headlining festivals. While the venue is no more, the label continues to immortalize talents that don't lend themselves to media blitzing. With artists of Goold's caliber on its roster, the nascent indie joins the ranks of Palmetto Records and Tzadik as one to watch among New York's thriving jazz scene.
Check out the AAJ feature on Smalls Records .