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Old-fashioned invention infuses a new spirit

A feeling of adventure sparks the playing by pianist Aaron Goldberg and friends.

September 13, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The performance by pianist Aaron Goldberg's trio Monday at the Jazz Bakery was a welcome reminder that there's a vital spirit afoot in jazz lately. It doesn't revolve around Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center, the arrival of a new musical messiah, the use of rap and turntables, or the emergence of yet another female singing star with a hit record.

It has everything to do with the tenets of curiosity, invention and enthusiasm, and with a fundamental belief in the viability of jazz as America's most persistently creative art form. Beyond Goldberg, one can hear it in the music of players as varied as Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, Brian Blade, Stefon Harris, Fred Hersch, Ravi Coltrane and Kurt Rosenwinkel, among many others.

Working in remarkably intuitive fashion with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Eric Harland, Goldberg concentrated on material from his latest CD, "Worlds" -- an album underscoring the manner in which the new jazz spirit has become a globally interactive phenomenon.

His playing was a stunning blend of elements, reaching from dense rhapsodic chording and arching filigrees of melody to explosive, off-center rhythmic accents. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem" soared gently above shifting harmonic zephyrs.

Djavan's "Lambada de Serpente" wandered through a virtual Amazon of colorful musical landscapes. And Benny Golson's "Stablemates" was transformed into a whimsical set of variations that Goldberg renamed "Unstablemates."

The most compelling aspect of the evening, however, was the feeling of adventure that sparked the music. This was a group that clearly found joy in a shared mission.

Solos blended seamlessly into ensemble passages, and spontaneous duet interaction -- especially between Avital and Harland -- kept the excitement meter rising. The energy of the quest for discovery was palpable enough to fully engage the listeners.

What listeners there were, that is. The turnout for Goldberg's performance was relatively small, underscoring the irony that at a time when the music may be more creatively diversified than ever, when the overall quality is high and the goals are ambitious, the best and newest of 21st century jazz is tending to elude the audiences it deserves.

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