25 February 2013

As the alembic

I was recording, and with the first notes I worried that I’d set the gain control too high. This is a band, after all, with drums. You expect some volume. But the Casey Golden trio was playing at a level that I virtually strained to hear. The drummer was Ed and I know his so-subtle stick play, restrained in volume with an uncommonly intimate contact with the skins. And bassist Bill was there, too, clear but understated, each note precise and with intent and absolutely without superfluity. These days, his playing is sparse, although occasionally visited with little fills of teeming lines or repeated notes or dropping into fast passages and walks when required. And Casey himself, bent over the piano, delicately laying out sequences or melodies or standing as foil to a written bass line of simple clarity. The members moved the focus around the band but virtually without signal, sometimes a short bass solo, or piano featuring but unobtrusively, or a mild ostinato and one of Ed’s blisteringly developed solos. Given the restrained presence, I got to wondering about the PA: one wedge as a monitor for Ed and one feeding the audience and balancing the piano on the left of the stage. Chris Deacon was recording; was it ArtSound’s? It turned out to be Ed’s, with mics for bass and piano, presumably placed to ensure everyone, on and off stage, heard the subtlest details. The result was so slight that you hardly noticed, but it’s an indicator of the detail and distillation of this music. Distilled is the adjective I kept thinking: pure, clean, perfected, tight as, shorn of surplus and the low volume level was indicative. These were highly developed skills, playing detail with precision and control, notes when required and only then, everything considered and limited to the necessary. They played Dolphin Dance and a bop head for an intro, but otherwise this was original music by Casey. The progressions were often quite simple. I’ll enjoy listening back to the recording to better understand the melodies and broader structures, like the unison lines and starts and stops of the arrangements. But the effect was pure: delicately formed and subtle jazz. How good is this? Casey Golden (piano) performed with Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums) for too small an audience at Canberra Grammar Gallery.

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