Can a 12-year old pianist offer up the emotional depth necessary to handle tunes like Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," Matt Dennis's "Angel Eyes," or Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't?" The answer appears to be yes, and then some. Brandon Goldberg's exciting album, Let's Play, reveals that a young man can not only convey emotional context within his playing, but demonstrates his ability to create new and innovative arrangements of standards (and non-standards like the Lennon-McCartney "Blackbird") and embellish the solos of his bandmates.
Listening to this album, one is reminded of an evening of music in a city jazz club, sipping wine by candlelight, and the sparkling eyes of that special someone glowing back at you. Named Downbeat Magazine's 2019 and 2018 Student Music Awards winner for Jazz Soloist and Original Composition, Goldberg uses the standard piano-trio format on seven of the numbers. He extends the piano trio to a quartet when he adds saxophonist Marcus Strickland on two pieces. And on Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," he goes it alone, serving up a tender and bluesy solo rendition.
Goldberg never pushes his technique. His piano playing is light and dances on the keys. But this does not hinder his ability to emphasize stride bass notes or modal transitions. Instead, it enhances it. And his bandmates enhance things too. Take Wolfe's bass opening and unison playing with Goldberg's left hand at the beginning of "McCoy," Goldberg's tribute to McCoy Tynerone of three originals on the albumor the charm that Strickland brings to the graceful Herbie Hancock tune "Dolphin Dance."
Goldberg says the music on Let's Play was inspired by his heroes Monk, Tyner and Hancock. Like his heroes, Goldberg has developed his own unique voice and techniquea style that shows great promise for the future.
Well You Needn't; Blackbird; You Mean Me; Angel Eyes; The Understream; Dolphin Dance; Caravan; In A Sentimental Mood; McCoy.
Brandon Goldberg: piano, Fender Rhodes, compositions, arrangements: Ben Wolfe: bass; Donald Edwards: drums; Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone.