The Now marks the fifth tersely titled disc in 16 years for pianist Aaron Goldberg’s trio with drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers. An obvious parallel to this persistent dedication to art and craft is the Brad Mehldau Trio, led by another pianist who suffers facile comparisons to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. But Goldberg and his rhythm section (who also pair up behind Charles Lloyd) have steadfastly refined a mixture of elements that is at once distinctive and familiar: thoughtful Goldberg originals that are usually either postbop or balladry; slightly skewed covers of mid-20th-century jazz tunes; and some exquisite Latin American jazz, pop or folk songs. The occasional guest star is added for seasoning.
Much of the depth and soul of The Now stems from Goldberg expressing the saudade of Brazilian music. It’s in the teased-out opening vamp and impeccably intonated trills of “Trocando Em Miudos,” a 1978 pop song about the material divisions of divorce. It’s in the lapping intensity and restraint of the trio’s version of Djavan’s 1980 lament “Triste Baia Da Guanabara,” and in the way Goldberg holds the notes on Toninho Horta’s gorgeous late-’80s waltz “Francisca.”
Goldberg adds his own kindred waltz, “The Wind in the Night,” a love song that has Rogers alternately providing the brace for him to lean on and the balm to limber up his phrasing. Harland is likewise crucial to The Now. Goldberg specifically fetes him on “E-Land,” leaving prime sonic real estate for the drummer’s fills and then tossing out some riffage for the drummer’s counterpoint. But Harland is actually more impressive snaking his snare beats hard on the heels of Goldberg’s sinuous line during Warne Marsh’s “Background Music,” and otherwise shading the rhythm with a delicacy that is an unheralded component of his overall expertise.
The only song that doesn’t fit is the closer, “One Life,” an emotional composition in tribute to a child of Goldberg’s friends who has passed away. It’s the longest song and only non-trio piece, with guest Kurt Rosenwinkel dominant on guitar. The change is abrupt, and carries too much freight. Cherish it later, not in the woven context of The Now.