Australian composer/pianist Casey Golden has currently swapped his beloved trio for a London-based quartet consisting of Casey, Alex Munk (guitar), Henrik Jensen (bass) and Will Glaser (drums). Previous recordings, with the trio, ‘Outliers‘(2015) and ‘Miniature'(2016), received very warm reviews including a 4 out of 5 from these here pages.
Having spent my formative years blessed with a good hefty weight of Heavy Rock I am quite partial to a RIFF and a pedal. I also like a bit of purposeful simplification – the designer’s ideal moment when there’s nothing left to take away, leaving you with only a pure, emotive message. Beware though – take anything else away and you fall into a tidy, well kempt but ultimately very dull ditch of austere minimalism and I don’t like that.
So, a bit of non-austere, pared back riffery suits me just fine…and, well, what do you know?…that happens to be exactly what this album does best! The quartet holds it’s nerve against the urge to overplay at any point, making the interplay even more meaningful. It’s a jazz album that somehow has a rock sensibility yet doesn’t try to deliver rock sonics. I kinda do like that.
Atlas is mapped out over 8.5 nicely ordered tracks (the 0.5 being ‘High Up (piano intro)’) benefiting you approx 50 minutes worth of absorption time.
The first half of the eponymous opener introduces you to that ‘play less, deliver more’ formula that is kept on message throughout. Golden delivers a drowsy, bitter-sweet, too-emotive-to-be-laconic, well-weighted melody that is handed over to Munk to continue in same style until they come together as a harmonious single voice while the Jensen Glaser create a very comfortable cushion. The second half is more angular with dynamic, stuttering interjections from each player – a rolling piano solo is followed by a handsomely vocalised slur and glide solo from Munk before all players tenderly depart.
Next up is my album highlight – it’s the piano/guitar riff cymbal wash that punctuates the first 2-3 minutes of ‘Singularity’ creating so much threat and drama yet being simplicity itself. Jensen’s acoustic bass then leads a poetic narrative before Golden steps up all reflective and romantic. So full but empty. Dramatic but no dramatic sounds.
‘Still Life’ ticks and throbs. Intense pedalling piano riff allows drums to tick-tock busily over the top and a sweet-as AOR piano/guitar harmony Chris Cross’s its way into a mathematical, dancing Golden solo that lets Munk chirp away just sayin’ (electric communication between them) until we’re back into the AOR chords again. ‘The Golden Munk’ is truly a special, magical two-headed musician.
Spooky start to ‘The Hobbyist’ (great title) becomes piano-stabbing syncopated and jerky before briefly leaving Golden to romantically schmooze again and then back into jerky before a piano/bass riff allows Munk and Jensen to get energetic. Gorgeous interplay.
‘High Up’ is a deftly executed piece of two parts (Part 1, contemplative. Part 2, optimistic, spiritual) where the fluid textures and layers build giving the impression of quite a few more than four players.
‘Christmas Carol’ plods through with a weary, few-too-many-whiskeys-needed festive feel (I’m sure I even heard military drums at one point) before the alcohol lubricates tender nerves, delivering acceptance.
‘The Good Fight’ sets out to bring just that – a rollickingly upbeat piano riff busies before we relax into a harmonious, easy-going free for all. Then momentarily, happily uptight again before it proper kicks off (around 5.45) with all guns blazing – a string-bend(!) from Munk leads to Glaser fire while Jensen anchors firm.
‘Everybody Else’ has ‘Atlas’ go out comparably quietly and evenly. Well spaced chords, lots of room to breathe and some really interesting melodic moments.
Atlas is lots of things – as is typical of modern jazz. Many interesting, charming textures and layers. You’ll hear lots of your own influences as much as the quartet’s. For example, Alex Munk without actually sounding like anybody in particular makes me think of Song-X Metheny, early-Satriani and Scofield as well as countless others.
Aside from the layer depth what makes this album really stand out is the beautiful, intelligent, empathic, yet chop-restrained interplay between the four musicians. It’s a case of everybody always naturally doing the right thing, with heart and flare, and nobody ever doing too much.