Larry Goldings / Peter Bernstein / Bill Stewart ‘Toy Tunes’ CD (Pirouet) 4/5

There is something about the production and the composition of most modern American jazz that immediately Geotags its position in the world and asserts its authority on the jazz scene. For me there seems to be a post production sheen. It manages to deliver an assured reflection of modern life and whilst delving into some darker corners, ultimately portrays a positive outlook. It’s one thing I love about American culture. It’s a winning formula and an approach taken on by huge conglomerates like Hollywood and the big 3 media labels.

The trio’s latest album, Toy Tunes (Pirouet Records, May 2018), manages to recreate not only this production sheen but the certainty that America still exports some of the best jazz music in the world. There are certain albums that conjure mental images right from track one and whilst I desperately attempt to accurately depict this classy piece of work, I couldn’t help but think about Americana and the culture that has transferred across the pond to us Brits. From the acknowledgement of Steely Dans influence with ‘Fagen’ to the laid back swing of ‘Maybe’ this album makes me think of the sleeper cars of blue-collar America. Take a modest framework and turn it into a formidable force; whilst often showcasing historically accurate touches. There is pride in showing the aged and blemished exterior and yet a clear wax is often used to give protection and a ‘sheen’ which not only shows off the history but ironically creates an appealing finish. Under the hood is a vastly superior engine (often hugely secret to all but the highly educated) and every effort has been made to tune it to its full potential. The craftsmanship and time consumption shows the true love the owner has for these amazing vehicles and it’s usually proudly displayed at rallies and events.

You may dismiss this tortured analogy but isn’t it incredible that music can transport you to places that you would not normally explore? For me, I was bowled over by the sheer class and expertise of this trio. It was clearly an American sound and although some of the harmonies were challenging, sophisticated and the sort of chord extensions that get music college students excited, it ultimately had optimism and a timeless quality; a ‘sheen’, if you will. You are never quite sure if it’s exploring post millennial modernism, late 1970’s Fusion or Jimmy Smith-esque Soul Jazz. The album is steeped in history and pays homage to the past whilst creating something new. As I say, you never know what’s ‘under the hood’. It’s funky, it swings and every note seems to land with cool precision. It’s all cleverly put together and shows true instrumental mastery. It doesn’t follow the usual organ trio clichés but focuses on the song form and interaction between musicians. I guess if you take three phenomenal musicians and have them working together since the early nineties then you’re going to get some fine output!

This is a well presented album which has everything tuned to perfection. It misses out on five stars purely for the fact that it’s almost too cool and calculated. I would love to hear the group really ‘gun it’ – I’m sure they do in a live setting. A fine album.

Jay Riley