A few years ago, I was in my local Future Shop store, browsing through the computer section, when I heard this amazing jazz tune emanating from a desktop PC. It was Aaron Goldberg’s “Oam’s Blues,” a barnstorming straight-ahead number, being played from the Windows Vista sample music folder, which is on all Vista computers. I headed to my favorite local book store, which has the largest selection of jazz CDs in the city, to inquire about the Aaron Goldberg CD, Worlds. The clerk had a copy and was surprised that I had heard about Goldberg.
I quickly relayed my story to him and have been following Goldberg’s recording career ever since, always hoping that he would perform in Winnipeg. He actually was here a few years ago, as a sideman in the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, but back then I didn’t know anything about him.
When the Izzy Asper Jazz Performance concert series announced its 2011-12 offering of shows last year, I was excited to see that Goldberg’s trio was booked for three shows in March 2012. While at Harvard University, he won the International Association of Jazz Educators’ Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship. After graduating, he performed as a sideman, most notably with Joshua Redman. In 2010, he earned his Master’s degree in Analytic Philosophy from Tufts University. He’s well-educated in addition to being a top-notch jazz pianist.
There is no doubt that Aaron Goldberg is a rising star in the jazz world. His March 10 performance in Winnipeg was even more than I expected. During the quieter compositions, his playing was simply beautiful. His playing during the speedier numbers was dazzling, churning out a furious set of notes all while contributing to a glorious vortex of sound along with drummer Gregory Hutchinson and double bassist Reuben Rogers. Goldberg was gracious and affable as he spoke about key figures in the local jazz scene and how they were turning Winnipeg into “the newest borough of New York … the coldest borough.”
After playing “Oam’s Blues,” he said that the song title was censored by the Chinese government. The track “Mao’s Blues” appears on his second album, 2001′s Unfolding. Throughout the show, when he spoke to the audience, he frequently used the term “de-arranged” to joke but also describe how the trio interpreted other composers’ works in their own unique way. During intermission, after they had just performed such a number, the buzz word heard among the audience was “wow!”
I didn’t catch all the song titles but one of the songs from the first set that I recognized immediately was Pablo Milanés’ “Cancion Por La Unidad Latino Americana,” which Goldberg explained, translated to “Song For Latin American Unity.” It’s on his 2010 CD, Home, which was his fourth as leader. He joked about the song “Burrito,” which they performed, from the 2011 album collaboration with Guillermo Klein, Bienstan. He quipped that Bienstan was a fictional escape country where there was peace and that Spanish was the spoken language.
Gregory Hutchinson’s drumming was at times not unlike virtuosic displays that I’ve seen in other jazz drummers, but what made him stand out was the amount of risky maneuvers that he undertook. I kept on wondering how he would command his kit next. It’s the ability to improvise with considerable unpredictability and yet make it all sound delicious that is the hallmark of a confident and experienced jazz musician. Hutchinson is a much in-demand live and session player, as well as instructor. Had this been him performing with a couple of unknown players, it would have been more than worth the price of admission. Depending on the moment, he struck his kit with a stunning ferocity or quietly tapped out solo notes while playing off of bassist Reuban Rogers. This was as exciting and powerful a jazz drum performance that I can ever recall seeing.
Rogers was constantly smiling and performed in a style that appeared at times to be playful, comfortable and creative while still displaying considerable challenge. Quite simply, Rogers took acoustic bass soloing to not necessarily to a higher level but to a different plain altogether, all the while appearing to be on the verge of laughing or singing. He did vocalize a tad and at one point, Hutchinson actually stopped drumming to egg on Rogers to sing.
While some other bass players perform in more or less a stoic style, Rogers truly involved himself in the show. At times he would spin the double bass so that he would position his face directly in line with Goldberg’s. Rogers expressed himself with facial movements pretty much as much as he did with his fingers on the bass. Like Hutchinson, Rogers, who has recorded on over 70 CDs, was so much a focal point of the show, that he could easily lead his own group with lesser-known players and still have the audience raving. Some of the best audience reaction was as a result of Rogers’ most quiet and delicate playing, especially when it was a deliberate reaction to Hutchinson’s drumming.
Not surprisingly, the group earned a boisterous standing ovation at the end of the main set. This led to them returning to perform Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” which also appears on Goldberg’s Home CD. After another standing ovation, they took a collective bow to bid the audience farewell. I left with a smile on my face as well as a copy of Rogers’ 2006 CD, The Things I Am, and a copy of 2012’s Yes! CD featuring Goldberg, drummer Ali Jackson, and bassist Omer Avital.
I arrived early at the Berney Theatre (a.k.a. Rady Jewish Community Centre) in order to take in the (opening) performance of the University of Manitoba jazz students. You get a chance to see new performers before they become fixtures in the local scene. For this evening’s performance, there was a bass player, drummer and guitarist, along with a singer, Joanna Majoko. I’m not sure how widely known it is that the audience can show up at the Berney Theatre early to catch the students perform, but it’s worth it.
As I was waiting for the Theatre to open, I had the pleasure of meeting the Producer of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performance series, and the evening’s MC, Bev Aronovitch. I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me who I thought she should try to bring in. I encouraged her to book U.S. guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who has worked with Aaron Goldberg.
One thing is for certain, the Aaron Goldberg Trio will be in considerable demand for a return engagement to Winnipeg.