In the past twenty years the jazz piano trio has branched out from the standards format into e.s.t..influenced, virtuosity-leaning trios and song-based units like the Neil Cowley
Trio and GoGo Penguin
. Of course, that's not the full piano trio picture, but it's refreshing to come across an alternative to both the traditional American trio and the hordes of anthemic, pop and rock-influenced European models. With Outliers
The Casey Golden Trio eschews typical rhythmic and melodic terrain, crafting a very tightly spun dynamic where the lines between head and improvisation are constantly blurred.
Pianist Golden came onto the radar with Clarity
(Scrampion Records, 2010) though it was immediately after that he recruited bassist Bill Williams and drummer Ed Rodrigues. Five years seems like a long gestation period but the resulting music is certainly original. Golden's compositionsbuilt on patient motivic development and repeating patternsconjure an initial illusion of simplicity and predictability that fades on multiple plays. Minimalism and water-tight unison patterns on "Flatpack Empire" and its close relative "Outliers," for example, suggest through-composed discipline as the trio's abiding leit motif, but the control is bound up with greater individual freedoms that are based on wily seduction as opposed to trumpeting virtuosity.
There are no overt jazz references and if anything it's Golden's classical training that lends most color to his music, infused as it is with a baroque elegance. At the same time, Golden's threading together of little motifs and his toying with kernels of ideas echoes the spirit, though not the actual vocabulary, of Thelonious Monk
. These two not unrelated worlds fuse on the folkloric "Home," the most expansive and free-reined tune of the set; Rodrigues dances around the beat, embellishing with percussive accents while first Golden and then Williams stretch out.
Arco and cajon add textural variation to "Paralyzed," which shifts between carefully structured repeating figures and limber improvisation. "Us or Them?" follows a similar pattern; rhythmic bustle and Golden's probing melodic navigation contrast with precisely executed collective unison lines. There's lyricism aplenty too, notably on "Recluse"where Golden's flowing lines unfold with a Bach-like logicand on "One of Two Places," which foregrounds the pianist's improvisatory élan over shifting percussive and rhythmic soundscapes; Williams nails his own colors briefly to the mast before the three musicians reunite on a helter skelter waltz to the finishing line.
The cover art, depicting asteroids, planets and exploding stars is by Marvel Comics artist Ron Frenz and serves as a striking metaphor for the highly structured yet occasionally random paths the music follows. The Casey Golden Trio may well be an outlier in terms of contemporary jazz piano trios, but there's much to ponder and plenty to marvel at in its very personal orbit.