by Ian Mann
February 24, 2021
The bassist plays superbly throughout, as do his two colleagues. Much of the album is extremely beautiful and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the writing styles of Goldsby and pianist Test.
The John Goldsby Trio
(Bass Lion Music BLM015)
John Goldsby – Double Bass, Billy Test – Piano, Hans Dekker – Drums
Bassist John Goldsby, pianist Billy Test and drummer Hans Dekker form the rhythm section of the acclaimed WDR Big Band, based in Cologne, Germany.
“Segment” brings them together for a small group recording under Goldsby’s leadership and presents a programme comprised of five original compositions by Goldsby and three by Test, plus two standards from the pens of jazz immortals Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker.
Goldsby was born in Louisville, Kentucky and established himself on the local jazz scene before moving to New York in 1980. Following fourteen years in the ‘Big Apple’ he took up a post with the WDR Big Band and emigrated to Germany in 1994.
During his time as a professional musician Goldsby has worked with many of the greats of jazz, among them pianists Jay McShann, John Lewis and John Hicks saxophonists Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Scott Hamilton, Johnny Griffin and James Moody, trumpeters Benny Bailey, Tom Harrell and Roy Hargrove, drummers Louie Bellson, John Marshall and Peter Erskine, guitarist Barney Kessell and vibraphonist Gary Burton. This list is by no means comprehensive and readers are referred to Goldsby’s website http://www.johngoldsby.de for further biographical details.
Goldsby is also an acclaimed educator who has held a number of teaching posts at a variety of German educational establishments. In addition to providing lessons and on line courses he is also the author of several books concerned with bass playing techniques. He is also a featured writer for Bass Player magazine and other specialist journals relating to the instrument.
As well as recording prolifically with the WDR Big Band Goldsby has also released a series of small group albums under his own name including “Tales of the Fingers” (1993), “Live at the Nachbar” (2008) “Space for the Bass” (2009) “The Visit”, a duo set with pianist Bill Dobbins, also 2009, and “The Innkeeper’s Gun” (2010).
“Segment” was recorded in June 2020 following Goldsby’s recovery from a brush with a rare form of cancer. Coupled with the fact that the recording date took place during a lull in the Corona Virus lockdown the session took on the air of a celebration as Goldsby himself explains;
“A true musician plays through all stages of life. My illness gave me time to reflect on my relationship to everything that is important and meaningful to me: my family and my music.”
Pianist Billy Test adds; “This record felt like a bit of a hurrah in a lot of ways—like a return to being a musician after the first corona lockdown. We were back making music together after months of being apart, and that made everything feel super fresh. We were revisiting each other after lots of practice time at home. It also felt like a ‘John Goldsby is back and really OK’ week. He kicked my ass on this recording!”
Test is a young American musician and I first heard his playing on the album “Highline”, a quartet recording made under the leadership of the British saxophonist and composer Alex Woods. Woods studied in the USA and the album was recorded in New York in 2018 and was eventually released by the Birmingham based Stoney Lane Records in 2020. It was the quality of Test’s playing on that album that helped to draw me towards “Segment”. My review of the “Highline” recording can be viewed here;
“Segment” was recorded at WDR’s studio in Cologne at a time when the full big band line up was prohibited from using the facilities, but when smaller groups were permitted to enter the studio. Goldsby and his trio certainly made maximum use of this opportunity.
The album commences with Goldsby’s “Things That Go Bump”, with its gently celebratory atmosphere. The production strikes a good balance between the instruments with Test’s crystalline piano sound complemented by Dekker’s neatly energetic and brightly detailed drumming. Goldsby’s bass is an effective grounding presence, but as one would expect on a bass led album he steps out of the shadows to deliver a solo that combines a strong melodic sense with an impressive dexterity, accompanied by Test’s spare piano chording and the gentle patter of Dekker’s hand drumming.
It’s also fitting that Goldsby should pay homage to another bassist /composer, in this instance Charles Mingus, with a performance of the latter’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, itself a tribute to the saxophonist Lester Young. The performance is introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied double bass, in which Goldsby again demonstrates his superb technique, but does so without resort to flashiness or ostentation. Indeed the tune is delivered as a tender ballad with Dekker deploying brushes throughout. Test’s piano solo reveals the young pianist’s affinity with the jazz tradition and the overall trio performance represents a worthy and very beautiful interpretation of this much loved and much covered composition.
Test, who has been with the WDR Big Band since 2018, takes over the writing duties for “Coming Down Roses”. Despite the slightly jocular wordplay of the title this is an attractive composition that begins in quiet, gently swinging fashion, with Dekker initially deploying brushes. It builds through an articulate and highly dexterous Goldsby bass solo and then through Test’s own carefully constructed piano solo, the momentum of the music building as Dekker switches to sticks and Test begins to stretch out more expansively. A strong sense of melody prevails throughout and the performance is crowned by a subtle drum feature from the excellent Dekker, Goldsby’s WDR partner in rhythm since 2005.
Goldsby doesn’t reveal the identity of the dedicatee of his composition “Sergio”, but its sunny Brazilian flavourings may offer a clue. There’s a real sense of joyousness about Test’s sparkling piano solo, which is followed by a typically fluent Goldsby bass solo, and finally a colourful brushed drum feature from Dekker. Something of a Brazilian influence also feeds into the opener “Things That Go Bump”.
Test resumes at the compositional helm for the next two pieces.
“Shadows of Change” is a beautiful contemporary ballad, very contemplative in mood, that is introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from the composer. Goldsby’s bass solo sees him at his most melodic and lyrical, qualities that can also be applied to Test’s own playing. Dekker again features with brushes; although best known as a big band drumming he plays with a remarkable degree of sensitivity throughout the entire recording.
“Spinning” is cut from a similar cloth and exhibits many of the same qualities, with Goldsby again featuring as a soloist and with Dekker continuing to wield the brushes.
Energy levels are raised once more with the trio’s interpretation of Charlie Parker’s “Segment”, the tune that helped to give the album its title. “That really reflects my roots as a straight ahead, bebop, 4/4 walking bass player”, explains Goldsby. With the leader anchoring the trio Test is given the leeway to stretch out, and does so with a hugely exuberant piano solo, matched by the vitality of Dekker’s drumming. Goldsby eventually gets his own chance to shine, and does so on a bass solo that combines superb technique and dexterity with a flawless sense of swing. Dekker also gets to enjoy himself with a series of sparky drum breaks.
The final three compositions come from the pen of Goldsby. The beautiful ballad “Blue Dahlia”, introduces a more reflective side of Goldsby’s writing and features his melodic pizzicato soloing alongside Test’s subtly blues tinged piano lyricism. Dekker’s delicate brushwork is the epitome of sensitivity throughout.
“Fall Calls” retains the mood of introspection and represents a showcase for Goldsby’s arco skills as he plays the melody with the bow before reverting to the pizzicato technique to accompany Test’s limpid piano solo. Dekker provides yet more sublime brushed drum accompaniment.
The trio bring things home by upping the energy levels once more on the fiercely swinging “The Sequence of Things”, with Test’s joyous and often dazzling solo brilliantly supported by Goldsby’s agile bass lines and Dekker’s busy, sharply detailed drumming. Features for bass and drums are also woven into the fabric of the tune as the trio sign off in rousing fashion.
The immaculately recorded “Segment” is a celebration of Goldsby’s return to good health and the bassist plays superbly throughout, as do his two colleagues. Much of the album is extremely beautiful and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the writing styles of Goldsby and Test, two musicians from different jazz generations who still manage to combine brilliantly, both in the context of the WDR Big Band and this trio. Goldsby’s writing is very much informed by the jazz tradition while Test inevitably adopts a more contemporary approach. Dekker serves the compositions of both men superbly, delicate and sensitive or busy and energetic as required, always giving the music exactly what it requires.
My review covers the CD version of the “Segment” album but the studio sessions also contained recordings of other pieces, some of which have been featured on a series of “Segment” digital EPs. Among this number are “Cinema Paradiso” on Vol. 1, “Love Is Enough” on Vol. 2 and “Carousel” and “Black Forest Blues” on Vol.3. All three EPs also include tracks sourced from the CD album.
The CD plus the digital EPs are all available from Goldsby’s Bandcamp page;