The past is prologue when it comes to precocious, teenaged pianist Brandon Goldberg, who during the past two years has taken top honors in several DownBeat Student Music Awards categories. A development perhaps surpassing these accomplishments is the release of his debut album, Let’s Play (Self Release; 44:51).
“McCoy”—Goldberg’s work that won the Original Composition–Small Ensemble category in the Junior High School division this year—sizzles with Tyner-like speed, flair and intricacy. Even more impressive is his take on Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t,” which under Goldberg’s adroit and nimble fingers evokes Bud Powell. It’s this kind of maturity and proficiency that pervades Let’s Play, and never more accessible as on “Dolphin Dance.” The trio’s treatment is a familiar one, but there’s a distinct warmth and jubilance that’s unique, and listeners can feel the group’s camaraderie—Ben Wolfe’s measured beats on bass, Donald Edwards’ unobtrusive ripples on drums and guest Marcus Strickland’s sweet lyricism on saxophone—and Goldberg’s amazing grasp of the tune’s melody and harmony. Goldberg is still a student in progress, but his jazz IQ is phenomenal and the prodigy seemingly has become prodigious.
— Downbeat, Herb Boyd