Larry Goldings: Versatility of Keyboards... And Music

R.J. DeLuke By

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LG: Matt and Ben were two guys who I had worked with in the studio. I felt that they were a great combination, not only musically, but in their conceptual ideas when putting together on-the-spot arrangements. We worked together on a Curtis Stigers record and I really liked how Ben and Matt would not be afraid to chime in with ideas. They were usually really creative ideas. They're very quick thinkers in that way. When you make a jazz record you usually have very limited time. The more spontaneous and creative and imaginative the musicians, the more you're going to get out of a couple days in the studio.

I've always found that with Peter and Bill as well. We get stuff together very quickly. But when thinking about doing a non-trio record and who all had those attributes, I immediately thought of Matt and Ben. Musically speaking, those two also don't exist in a rigid stylistic box. They're very open musicians. Both have a sense of tradition as well, but their openness is something that I've always been attracted to. I definitely had in mind a more open sound for this record.

John Sneider is one of my oldest New York friends. I met him shortly after I moved to New York in 1986. We've only, until now, played a lot of little gigs around town. I was on part of John's record once. But it seems like too many years had passed since we had really been able to collaborate in a more thorough, creative way. Also, he's very under-appreciated. Particularly now, because during the day he works for a big jingle company, JFM in New York. He's done that for five years or so. He does a lot less playing and he's a lot less on the playing scene. Ironically, it made him a better player somehow. He seems to get better and better over the years. I also brought him into one of the Curtis Stigers records and got to hear what he was sounding like these days. It was so refreshing to hear him. I've always known him to be a very open musician. Also a good composer, arranger. Incredible ears, great in a free situation. He can very quickly and easily hear what's going on harmonically.

With the kind of spontaneous situation we had with a couple days in the studio, and wanting to do some free stuff, you have to pick your musicians very carefully and find people who, in the moment, really engage and take the music someplace.

That was the core group, and then Madeleine. I had been working with her and did her record (Careless Love). We've done a bunch of gigs together. I really like her personally and musically and felt it would add another element to the record.

Her record was very well thought out. Larry Klein, who produced it, put a lot of thought into the repertoire and the approach. I thought it turned out really lovely.

AAJ: Some of the tunes you found are nice and unusual. Where did you find some of these tunes?

LG: Abdullah Ibrahim ("The Wedding") is someone I've been listening to for years. Peter Bernstein turned me onto him way back in the mid-80s when I first met Peter at the Eastman School of Music. We went to this summer high school jazz program. That's where I met Pete. Pete was into all sorts of things that I had no idea about, including Abdullah Ibrahim. I became instantly attracted to his music. "The Wedding is always something I've gone back and listened to. I always felt he was strangely under recorded. His tunes are so memorable and catchy and soulful and have so much charm to them. I was going to record it on piano, but we decided at the last minute that I would try on organ, just to bring something different to it. I've always known about that song. I might have played it a few times with my organ trio way back when.

The same goes for the music of Gabriel Faure ("Au Bord De L'Eau"). I learned his "Requiem in high school and then became a big fan of his music and recordings of his songs for piano and voice. That piece is one of his pieces that was so close to the original that I decided that—even though I brought it into a jazz realm—I couldn't really call it my own. The original piece is gorgeous and sounds like a French romantic vocal piece, but has those beautiful jazz harmonies. Even though rhythmically, it sounds like a jazz tune on the record, it's actually quite close to how it goes harmonically. As is "The Wedding which is pretty straight forward in terms of my interpretation. It's pretty much Abdullah's chords. I thought there wasn't too much room for improvement.

Bjork ("Cocoon") is someone who over the last three years or so I've really loved and found her music to be extremely melodic, even with all the electronic experimentation going on. I love it in her hands, or in the hands of her programmers or whatever you call them. I felt melodically and emotionally connected to that song. I wanted to find a way to approach it instrumentally, but also—in our acoustic jazz way—define a way to salute the electronic aspect of what she did with it. So we had Matt Wilson play in a very sparse, sort of eccentric manner; mimic what was going on in the original Bjork track. It's from a record called Vespertine. It's a very melodic, beautiful, nicely constructed song.

AAJ: On some of the songs, you're all listed as co-composers ("A Dream About Jacki Byard," "Hidalgo," "Denoument").

LG: Those were because they were totally free pieces. Before we would record I would say, "Let's make this short ...someone would come up with a vibe, to begin with. Sometimes we weren't even meaning to. We were talking about what to play next and Ben would get into something on the bass, and I would say, "Let's just roll. The idea was to try to make it as concise and well-structured as possible.

These guys are some of the best players in a free situation that I could think of. However, I did take advantage at times of what one can do post-production. If there were things that I wanted to edit, or notes that I didn't like. For instance on the Bjork tune, Matt was the only person in his own isolated booth. There were things I was able to do with him, in terms of editing what he played, that gave me a lot of freedom. I have no problem doing that. I really like the freedom of being able to do things with the music after it's played.

For the most part, I didn't do that. But there were times when I wanted to. The first one ("Singsong") was actually a free piece where Ben started a little melodic thing and I thought of a very short, simple, kind of child-like melody. I wrote it out for the guys. We didn't even rehearse it, we just rolled tape. I felt it was one of the strongest things we did, so I wanted to put it first. I also felt it summed up the vibe of the record, melodic and free, but structured at the same time., with a lot of group ,playing as opposed to soloist after soloist after soloist.

About half of the record has traditional soloing, then there's a lot of group soloing, which I also really like.

"Jackie-ing is just a song I've known for a long time. I used to play it with Jon Hendricks; he had a lyric to it. It's not very often played. "Valsinha is by one of my favorite Brazilian artists, Chico Buarque. It's a very haunting, beautiful piece that has classical undertones to it. There is a perfect example of how the creative thinking of the other musicians really influenced the direction that the interpretation ended up going. I was going to play more or less a straight waltz. Matt and Ben started playing a free, out-of-time, but in time rhythmic idea as we rehearsed it. I said, "Why don't we just do it that way. We just went with it. It sounded very natural and also enabled us to take the tune into a completely different place, but still have the melodicism.

AAJ: How do you like the CD over all?

LG: I'm really happy with it. There's sort of a conceptual thing going through it. I don't know what the concept is, exactly. But there are a lot of things on there that I don't hear a lot on jazz records, in terms of how it's recorded, the freedom that's in there. The textures. That's what I'm going for.

I felt it was very honest and very much what I set out to do. It's also pretty eclectic, and that's kind of me.

AAJ: Are you touring to support it?

LG: I'm trying to. I've got a record release for four nights at the Jazz Standard. I'm trying to get the band on the road beyond that. Hopefully, we have a little stint in the UK in late April, early May. Realistically, I'm not looking at a bulk of stuff until maybe the fall. I'm trying to get on the road, but in the meantime, I've got other things going on.

I've got a group with Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield and myself (Trio Beyond), we're going to Europe in July. And then I've got some gigs with Matt Wilson's group. Madeleine is off for a while, working on her next record. I've got some gigs with James Taylor, who I've been working with. We're actually going to do a handful of duo gigs in March and maybe a few other things with him.

I definitely have the opportunity to get this band out, I just have to figure out everybody else's schedule But it is hard. Like pulling teeth to get some decent gigs.

AAJ: A lot of people who put out records don't even get to tour, or get very little support.

LG: That's frequently been the scenario with me. The organ trio records. We'd make a record, but then I'd have a lot of sideman gigs I'm committed to—and I'm grateful for it. Particularly when the James Taylor thing came along, that gets busy sometimes. Sometimes maybe I didn't have my priorities together, but sometimes it came down to economics, where I had a few things boiling for the trio, but then a month or two with James Taylor came up and I had to do that.

Unfortunately, I've never quite figured out a better balance between getting my own groups out there and sideman work. It's tricky. I think it comes down to longer term planning, which I've never really done very well. That's why I'm already starting to think about the fall of 2006 for this group.

After almost 20 years of doing this, I'm finally figuring out that that's what you have to do. Make a long-term commitment and stick to it.
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