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The resurrection of a piano-trio classic carries the obvious risk of being unfavorably compared to the hallowed original. In pianist Aaron Goldberg’s hands, the arrangement of Ahmad Jamal’s hallowed version of “Poinciana,” right down to the signature bass ostinato performed by Matt Penman, seems a nearly mirror-perfect reflection of the 1959 hit. But there’s something different in the mix: Rather than the conventional trap-set accompaniment, drummer Leon Parker sets his sticks and brushes aside and opts for the chest-tapping accents of body percussion and the cries, sighs and howls of scatting. Parker employs the same techniques on Luiz Bonfá’s “Black Orpheus (Manha de Carnaval),” which here is based on an arrangement by Argentine pianist Guillermo Klein.
The eight-track program from Goldberg and his trio mates, however, doesn’t hang its hat on the novelty of Parker’s wordless vocals and hand-to-chest-generated rhythms, which are limited to the two evergreens. Arguably the session’s most captivating take is the leader’s solo reading of the title tune, a ballad composed by Martín Rojas, an obscure Cuban guitarist and songwriter. Other than a spellbinding version of the tune recorded by the late bassist Charlie Haden (for his 2001 album Nocturne), the enchanting composition has seldom been recorded. The soul-searching melody echoes the pensive sonorities of Chopin one moment, Piazzolla the next. Goldberg’s exquisite version of the theme, known in Spanish as “En la Orilla del Mundo,” is sonic bliss.
There are other pleasant surprises. Goldberg has a fondness for Bobby Hutcherson compositions, and the unit tackles two of the late vibraphonist’s most attractive works. “Isn’t This My Sound Around Me” is a straightahead burner Hutcherson recorded with McCoy Tyner in 1994, while “When You Are Near” is a sentimental ballad that showcases bassist Penman’s improvisational acumen. While the piano trio has been part of the jazz scene for many decades, At the Edge of the World proves that, in the right hands, the format can still produce stirring performances and more than a few striking twists and turns.—Mark Holston
Featured photo by Alejandra Barragán.