Long-Lasting Organ Trio Goldings, Bernstein, Stewart Mark 30 Plus Years Together On ‘Perpetual Pendulum’

Perpetual Pendulum by the three decades longstanding trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Bill Stewart marks the fourth entry in this writer’s self-dubbed 2022 as the year of the “organ oriented” bands. This unit, the longest-lasting organ trio in jazz, is by far the most jazz-centric of those we’ve covered – Delvon LaMarr, James Gaiters Soul Revival, and Chicago’s Soul Message Band, all three essentially in a soul-jazz mode while this trio sticks closer to straight-ahead fare.  That the album comes out on Smoke Session Records is significant, not because it was recorded at the club of the same name, but because that club now occupies the former Augie’s Jazz Bar, where the trio first came together for informal gigs that led to regular Thursday night sets in 1989. The album is comprised of originals from each of the three members as well as jazz standards.

They begin with Wayne Shorter’s “United,” a longtime staple in their live sets, a composition that appeared first with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers circa 1961. Stewart drives it, just as Blakey did, with the guitar and organ feeding off his forceful beats. Goldings’ “Let’s Get Lots” takes the witty wordplay of the title into playful musical territory, led by Bernstein’s melodic opening, followed by a searching organ solo that induces call and response exchanges between the two. They cover Gary Bartz’s title track “Libra,” from the composer’s underrated 1967 album. Kicked off by Stewart’s surging rhythms, the trio fires into high gear, sustaining sizzling end-to-end momentum. 

Goldings’ arrangement of Gershwin’s “Prelude,” transforms it into a bluesy excursion which Bernstein joyfully complies within his greasy statement as well. Stewart leads the fiery attack in the politically charged “FU Donald” where the intensity keeps building to an explosive, abrupt climax. The chestnut “Come Rain or Come Shine” is one they’d never played live, settling into a relaxed vibe as both Bernstein and Goldings twist and turn the famous melody inside out.  As lively as their take is on that one, they go absolutely tender on Ellington’s “Reflections in D,” suspending long notes over Stewart’s delicate brushwork. 

Bernstein has two contributions, “Little Green Men” and the title track. The former appeared on 1992’s Light Blue, but transformed into a brisk, swinging mode here. “Perpetual Pendulum” takes a slower burn route, with the guitarist stating a basic melody that evolves into another remarkably full-toned, clean note slow-burn blues workout, which later proves the perfect vehicle for Goldings sweeping organ excursions. 

Stewarts’ second piece is “Lurkers,” another that begins calmly with Bernstein’s deliberate lines before Goldings unleashes his fireworks. The two players take opposite approaches to their respective instruments with the organist searching for every chord, note, or pedal effect to coax every possible sonic result from his Hammond B3 while the guitarist shuns any effects, content to cleanly pick and glide up and down his fretboard. These contrasting styles are a key part of the trio’s intriguing, locked-in interplay. Emphasizing this point is the closing “Django,” long a favorite of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Bernstein lays down his elegant, flowing lines which at first Goldings reflects with a series of lush chords before almost inevitably bursting into his trademark swing mode that the trio embraces to take the tune out.  Here, as on many others, Stewart’s crafty work on the kit and especially the cymbals, is the glue that unifies the two chordal instruments. 

Unlike many organ trios, Goldings, Bernstein, and Stewart display an elegant, swinging demeanor that never falls into tempting traps of well-worn clichés. Their collective sound allows each to express their individual style without compromise.

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