Twenty-seven years is an extraordinarily long time for any jazz outfit to stay together, and for organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, it’s been time well spent. Toy Tunes, the trio’s 12th album, presents a band that has managed to hone its personal organ-trio language without stepping too far away from the template drawn by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff.
“And Now the Queen,” a Carla Bley composition, is a prime example of the first point: The unearthly, seemingly random sounds tossed out by Goldings as the tune opens crash into Bernstein’s chopped-up, quasi-distorted chords; they kick around a few ideas for another minute or so while Stewart lays back, occasionally rattling a snare or tapping a cymbal. A conventional groove never finds its way into the picture; instead, the three slip unobtrusively into an exotic dance, its route unforeseen, its demeanor armor-tough. Goldings’ “Fagen,” which opens Toy Tunes, is a nod to Steely Dan’s surviving cofounder, Donald Fagen, and while its melody only flirts with the type that he might write, it’s not hard at all to see why Goldings makes the choices he does.
When they’re so inclined, though, the trio certainly knows how to play it straight—or close enough. The shuffling title track, the album’s longest at seven minutes, features well blocked-out solos from both the keyboardist and the guitarist, with Stewart serving as a solid anchor—albeit one who can’t help but lash out every so often and egg the others on.
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