Review by: OSO
Attempting to describe the adventurous spirit of the Golden Arm Trio has always been an interesting game of adjective hunting. The group that takes its name from the 1955 Frank Sinatra flick (where ol’ blue eyes portrayed a junkie) never loses its sense of adventure and willingness to experiment. The word ‘group’ is also used quite loosely as in actuality the Golden Arm Trio is the brain child of Austin based musician/composer Graham Reynolds, with a revolving door of musicians. The word “Trio” is not to be taken literally either while thinking about seeing a performance, as was evident yet again at Emo’s this month.
A person attending one of their shows could very well experience Reynolds alternating between piano and drums along with a cellist, a saxophone or upright bass all playing cinematic, graceful or violent compositions that hint at melancholy. Alternately at this last performance, Graham was placed center stage on his white upright piano with a crescent moon of musicians around him. This particular show’s high energy seemed to cater to the venue and the music had an interesting mix of elements. Energetic, driving drums with an almost hard rock aesthetic that still maintained a deep pocket and jazzy overtones. The mad scientist-like pianist was guiding all along and the sometimes show-tune sounding horn lines seemed to hover and puncture simultaneously. There were elements of disco, punk, jazz and Broadway. There was improvisation as well as orchestration.
The cast was a great combination of well-seasoned eclectic Austin musicians: Steve Bernal on bass, David Colvin on drums, Paul Klemper on saxophones and Wayne Meyers on trombone. The four of them gathered around Reynolds taking their cues from his stream of consciousness conducting. Mind you, the band had written music -this was not entropy- although to an audience member not paying too much attention at times could very well seem that way. The charts seemed merely like a road map to where Reynolds wanted to take the vibe on stage to mix it in with the energy in the room and circle it all around to create a specific set of emotions on the listener. All of which are still subjective, of course.
The music was humorous yet elegant, smart but gritty. The commentary from Reynolds between songs might have seemed tongue in cheek, but some of the material being performed was indeed written for a play about football (as he so mentioned) which the ensemble had been performing earlier that week. Regardless, the music was fresh and funny as well as engaging, with sweeping moments of chaos, beauty and bounce. There was a Carnivalesque quality to the material that tickled the brain. There was also an element of introspection in the solo-piano breakdowns that brought to mind the scattered, fragile and imperfect state of affairs called modern living. Unfortunately, like life itself the show seemed rather short and ended quite suddenly.