This empathetic organ trio (with drummer Bill Stewart and guitarist Peter Bernstein) forged its chemistry in a regular weekly gig at Augie's, a bar on New York's Upper West Side that caters to the Columbia University crowd. The three have had various occasions over the years to renew their special musical bond by playing on each other's albums and on mutual side projects (Goldings and Stewart toured together with guitarist John Scofield). Moonbird brings them all together once again for some heightened stretching, as on the Larry Young-inspired title track, and comfortable grooving, as on the aptly-titled "Comfort Zone."
Goldings' liberated sense of time, soulful phrasing, rich harmonic palette and heavy grooving basslines make him one of the most progressive practitioners of the Hammond B-3 organ on the scene. Bernstein brings an inherent bluesiness and a hip, Grant Green-styled sense of phrasing to the trio and Stewart demonstrates the flexibility to swing, funk and color the proceedings with equal aplomb. Together they have that loose-tight thing that takes a band years to develop.
After opening on a swampy note with the New Orleans second line groover, "Crawdaddy," they drift into some engaging melodic territory on "Moonbird." Stewart takes a decidedly Elvin Jones-ish approach to the beat here, driving the piece while simultaneously playing against the grain. Bernstein contributes a beautiful, cascading solo and Goldings gradually builds momentum through his solo, holding to the bouncy melody before double timing and finally opening up harmonically.
Their 10-minute meditation on Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" is a darkly compelling vehicle for some real spontaneous searching by Goldings on the B-3. "Christine," for Goldings' wife, is unapologetically giddy on the lightly swinging Neal Hefti-ish opening theme. As the band shifts nimbly back and forth from 4/4 to 3/4, their old chemistry prevails. The most evocative piece is the hypnotic ballad "Empty Oceans" while the most surprising piece is a singular remake of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today." And they hold nothing back on the all-out burner, "Xoloft," which features Stewart in a brilliant, extended drum solo.
As far as organ trios go, it ain't greasy. But there's no more sophisticated, swinging and probing B-3 band around.