Live at Smalls
Here’s proof that guitarist Peter Bernstein, Hammond B3 organist Larry Goldings and drummer Bill Stewart excel at the art of the slow burn. Tempos aren’t rushed. Solos aren’t feverishly pitched. Call-and-response exchanges aren’t overheated. Instead, the trio shrewdly hews to a series of organ-combo grooves, turning this Manhattan club date into a simmering, soulful delight.
Nothing is more sublime than the performance of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Bernstein subtly embellishes the theme with Jim Hall-like finesse and, thanks largely to Stewart’s cushioning brushwork, it isn’t long before the melody is floating in the air. The burn factor rises on this track, and elsewhere on the album, when Goldings begins to pull out the stops, but don’t anticipate a lot of fuss and flash. Even Goldings’ performance on “Molto Molto,” which he wrote, isn’t molto busy. Look forward, instead, to Bernstein’s softly glowing rumination “Just a Thought,” and a slinky, blues-hued arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Nobody Else But Me.” A 12-minute take on “Milestones” burns brightest, but there are times when even that track, with its bleeping sci-fi atmospherics, sounds more whimsical than wired.
Not to be overlooked, too, is the way the trio salutes Ray Charles via Percy Mayfield’s “The Danger Zone,” which is saved for last. Bernstein is in slow shuffle mode, fluidly mixing blues riffs with jazz chromaticism until Goldings adds touches of Southern gospel fervor—just the right note for the album’s closer. Amen.