The jazz drought is officially over at the Kahilu Theatre, thanks to the Aaron Goldberg Trio. Dealing with the pandemic, shutdowns, and canceled tours, it’s been years since local jazz fans have had a chance to experience a talented pianist along the lines of Christian Sands or Laurence Hobgood – AND in person. Finally, Goldberg quenched our thirst at his Sunday matinee concert.
Goldberg is one of the hardest working pianists on the modern jazz scene. He grew up in a household where jazz music wasn’t played – only classical. “I was fortunate in high school to have a teacher who taught math by day and was a jazz bass player by night,” recalled Goldberg in our pre-show interview.
“To my good fortune, the school let him teach a jazz improvisation class for people like me who had zero jazz background. For homework, he gave us a Maxell cassette with the classics by Miles Davis, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Herbie Hancock. I listened to it a thousand times and got hooked! I learned jazz like I learned English by copying it from those who spoke better than me.”
Goldberg started in the early 1990s in New York and began his studies at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He’s since collaborated with many of jazz’s finest stars, including Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, and Betty Carter, along with a lengthy relationship with saxophonist Joshua Redman, with whom he’s performed extensively.
Matt Penman on upright bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums were central gears in Goldberg’s top-shelf trio. Penman is from Auckland, New Zealand, and began playing bass when he was 14. He’s a regular performer with jazz-rock guitarist John Scofield and a member of the SFJazz Collective, an 8-piece composer’s collective dedicated to presenting the original compositions of its members. Penman’s been playing with Goldberg since 1994.
Drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. is the youngest member at 31. He was introduced to the world of music by his father, guitarist Mark Whitfield. At four, two years into playing drums, he sat in with the Whitfield Family Band on an episode of Good Morning America. He later earned a reputation as one of the best young drummers in jazz and was nominated for a Grammy in 2014.
Fingers flashing but never flamboyant, Goldberg opened the show with an original composition titled “Shed.” Goldberg noted that it was written for his good friend and fellow musician Joshua Redman. It played out in a 5-4 groove, which might sound disjointed to some. The song felt like it might be the soundtrack to one of those noir crime films on TCM especially when he reached into the piano to get some edgy special effects. However, “Shed” seamlessly flowed into “Yoyo,” Goldberg’s version of the traditional Haitian song. The audience got its first glimpse of what the talented Whitfield can do effortlessly behind his kit.
Goldberg doesn’t like to work within the confines of a structured setlist or even call out to his band members what he’s playing next. However, they don’t mind, and followed his improvisation flow with ease.
For the midsection of the concert, Goldberg launched into a four-song 20-minute set before coming up for air. Then, slightly out of breath, he back announced what the trio just played before diving in for another 30 minutes.
The show finished with a re-work of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Isn’t She Lovely.” A lady seated behind me stood up and said, “That was outstanding!”
After the concert, the trio took a break before returning to the stage to record a private 30-minute music education segment streamed on Kahilu TV exclusively for local schools. Each musician demonstrated their instrument’s unique sound capabilities and their duties as a group. Goldberg then took music questions from bassist Penman’s seven-year-old daughter Isabella
Goldberg works with many different trios besides the one he brought to the Kahilu. Next month he’ll be touring Europe with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Ali Jackson in a group called Yes! Goldberg’s longstanding trio, featuring Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums, will have a new album coming out this summer with a tour in the fall.
Notes & Links
Shed | Yo-Yo | Black Orpheus (Manha De Carnaval) | Isn’t This My Sound Around Me | Sea Shanty | When You Are Near | Poinciana | Effendi | Isn’t She Lovely |
Concert date: 02/FEB/2022
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby