Some folks view the piano trio as the foundation of jazz; others listen impatiently, wondering when the horns will show up. On The Now, pianist Aaron Goldberg’s fifth album with bassist Reuben Rogers and/or drummer Eric Harland since 1998, he takes the music in divergent directions — some to positive effect, others definitely not. Consequently, boredom never sets in, and additional instruments are hardly missed. Indeed, the one guest is decidedly unwelcome.
The set includes three Brazilian pieces — Chico Buarque’s “Trocando em Miúdos,” the Djavan-popularized “Triste Baía da Guanabara,” and Toninho Horta’s “Francisca” — as well as a version of the traditional Haitian song “Yoyo.” The trio also dig into jazz repertoire, working over Charlie Parker’s “Perhaps” and Warne Marsh’s “Background Music” and reconfiguring Joe Henderson’s “Serenity” into the more unsettled “One’s a Crowd.”
On “Trocando em Miúdos,” the trio slowly unfurl a melody that recalls Keith Jarrett’s “Treasure Island.” Like the work of Swiss time lord Nik Bärtsch, Goldberg’s percussive piano opens “Yoyo,” which then quickly swells into a frilly Latin-bop romp. Goldberg’s and Harland’s playing on “Perhaps” is a bit too decorous. Fortunately, Rogers picks up the slack, going in hard and dragging/shoving his bandmates along. The drummer responds more fervently than the pianist, eventually working himself into a bomb-dropping frenzy. “Background Music” is totally frantic, speeding by so quickly that it feels like a Raymond Scott composition adapted for use in a cartoon. “Francisca” is a ballad with muscle. Goldberg tackles the tune as if he were cutting a 1955 Prestige session, rather than a lilting Brazilian piece.
The album concludes with its worst track. On “One Life,” guest guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s tone suggests that he showed up with a keytar. His solo sounds like a flute fed through an Echoplex, and it utterly destroys any emotional impact the tune might have possessed in more tasteful hands. It’s shockingly misguided, but the track’s placement at the end of the disc is fortuitous — get out early. —Phil Freeman