For the past two decades pianist Aaron Goldberg has crisscrossed the globe, spreading his music and absorbing local knowledge along the way. True to the jazz mentality, he learned to embrace serendipity as an artistic muse. Five years ago this month, in an historic chateau at the exact geographic center of France, Goldberg was reunited with an early influence. Soon a new project began to take shape. Goldberg’s latest recording, At The Edge of The World, documents this recent collaboration with drummer and percussionist Leon Parker, a brilliant innovator and performer, in a new trio along with the gifted bassist Matt Penman.
While studying at the New School in the early 1990’s Goldberg was introduced to Parker’s singular playing alongside keyboard icons including Kenny Barron, Brad Mehldau and Jacky Terrasson. Parker was a trailblazer on the kit, intent on developing a distinct language and sound all his own. Goldberg went on to attend Harvard but would return in the summers to the City to make sessions with both innovative peers and big city legends, including a multiyear musical mentorship from Betty Carter and a memorable gig with Parker in 1992.
In the decade after his return to NYC in 1996, Goldberg made a name for himself in the bands of Joshua Redman, Al Foster, Wynton Marsalis and Kurt Rosenwinkel, all while developing his own highly regarded trio with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. Parker, on the other hand, left New York on September 10 2001 for France, where he stopped playing drum set and nearly disappeared from the jazz world altogether.
Over a decade later Goldberg found himself in France without a drummer and was curious to see if Parker would be interested in playing again. Leon still remembered him well after 20 years, and without any rehearsal the gig became an unexpected triumph as the two experienced an instant musical reconnection. It wasn’t long before Parker expressed his interest in continuing their pairing on a more permanent basis, not as a sub but rather a full-fledged member of Goldberg’s band. Parker had found a musical outlet that he hadn’t fully known that he needed, and soon he was eager to get back into the scene.
By the fall of 2015 the duo was dialed in to tour but there were still significant logistical and financial hurdles to overcome. So Aaron applied for a French-American Jazz Exchange Grant to support this new trio project. Fortunately both the French and American governments were smiling down on them from above, and the duo received both the FAJE grant and a new passport for Parker just in time for the first gig of their tour. The grant also provided enough resources to partially fund two recording sessions: one became Goldberg’s At The Edge of the World, and another led to a co-produced Leon Parker album. Together these developments allowed for the re-ignition of Parker’s musical career, and he dove back into playing upon his return to NYC.
Goldberg’s longstanding appreciation for the drummer’s highly conversational style continued to grow as they had ever more fun on the bandstand with each tour. The joy in their shared swing and united groove was infectious and their interaction organic. Night by night Parker began to incorporate more of his singular vocal percussion as well as EmbodiRhythm, his personal body percussion techniques, into the music. The collaboration evolved from an exploratory project into a partnership.
After touring with several great bassists, the exceptional Matt Penman became their ultimate choice. Penman and Goldberg shared a long musical friendship, and the bassist provided a well-honed rhythmic foundation that the picky Parker could gel with. As this album attests, Penman’s propulsive feel, harmonic precision and well-honed lyricism serve as both complement and soulful glue for the trio. Together the three aim to engage the audience with spontaneous musical dialogues based around uncomplicated source material. To this end Goldberg allowed the band’s repertoire to develop in a natural way, aiming to build something inspired out of something simple.
The recording begins with Simon and Bernier’s “Poinciana.” Made famous by Ahmad Jamal, the trio intentionally puts it in a pocket as far away as possible from the original, featuring Parker’s unique vocal and body percussion. Goldberg’s poignant “Luaty” is dedicated to the Angolan political activist and rapper Luaty Beirão, arrested and held for a year without trial by former dictator José Eduardo dos Santos. While in prison Beirão captured the world’s attention by holding a 36-day hunger strike, which helped lead to a political shift ultimately resulting in dos Santos’s retirement. After admiring his courage and penning this piece, Goldberg met Beirão in Lisbon and they began an ongoing correspondence.
Both “Isn’t This My Sound Around Me” and “When You Are Near” are originals by the late vibraphone legend Bobby Hutcherson. Long a fan of Hutcherson’s work, Goldberg fell for both of these songs while performing in a Hutcherson tribute concert soon after the vibist’s death, and realized quickly that they would work perfectly as soulful vehicles for the trio. In a similar vein Goldberg chose to reapproach one of his favorite tunes, McCoy Tyner’s “Effendi” (fittingly, Turkish for ‘master’), in hopes of striking the jazzman’s classic balance between originality and respect for lineage.
Years after being first moved by the song’s melody and harmony, it was the Octavio Paz-inspired lyrics to Martin Rojas’s “En La Orilla Del Mundo” (translated “At The Edge of the World”) which began to resonate recently in Goldberg, with their swirling metaphors of mortality and potential change. For the album he thus opted to interpret this emotive melody alone at the piano. Goldberg transforms Guillermo Klein’s arrangement of Bonfá’s “Black Orpheus” (from their co-led album Bienestan) from its first incarnation into a piece that belongs to this trio. Finally the recording concludes with “Tokyo Dream,” an altered original blues that came to the pianist in the early morning hours in a jetlagged dream, which after a potent coffee he was able to assemble into a perfect vehicle for Parker’s swinging flair.
Two individuals were able to learn much about themselves on the fortuitous path that led to At The Edge of the World. Goldberg’s introspection into possible futures as well as his early passions led to his reunion with Parker, who was in turn looking for a spark to ignite his return to music. Fortunately for all, their collaboration turned into a momentous occasion for both in their musical maturation, making this album both a first testament and a celebration.
released November 16, 2018
Aaron Goldberg - piano
Matt Penman - bass
Leon Parker - drums, vocal percussion & EmbodiRhythm