Jazz CD Reviews
The Jeff Gauthier Goatette – Open Source – Cryptogramophone
Published on November 8, 2011
The Jeff Gauthier Goatette – Open Source – Cryptogramophone CG145, 58:48 ****:
(Jeff Gauthier – violin, electric violin, effects, producer; John Fumo – trumpet, effects; Nels Cline – electric guitar, classical guitar, effects; David Witham – piano, keyboards, accordion, effects; Joel Hamilton – bass; Alex Cline – drums, percussion)
Since 1998, Jeff Gauthier’s Cryptogramophone label has been the home to an eclectic roster, comprising Bennie Maupin, Erik Friedlander, Alan Pasqua and many others. The Jeff Gauthier Goatette (formed in 1922 from the ashes of Quartet Music) has been the label’s flagship group and on their sixth release, Open Source, the ensemble continues to use a wide musical spectrum, including jazz, fusion, atonality and more left-of-center elements: music which is challenging and not easily classified. This time around violinist/composer Gauthier adds trumpeter John Fumo to the lineup (Fumo has previously worked with Gauthier in Steuart Liebig’s band Quartetto Stig and in Alex Cline’s Band of the Moment). The other regulars include guitarist Nels Cline (who fronts the instrumental Nels Cline Singers and is most famous for his stint in rock outfit Wilco), Nels’ twin brother Alex on drums and percussion, keyboardist/accordionist David Witham and bassist Joel Hamilton
Despite the implications of the album’s title, Gauthier explains, “This is not music for others to tinker around with. It’s music drawn from an open source of creativity and style, as interpreted by musicians who have the skills to interact with each other in the moment. Over time, this interaction can develop into a musical language that grows and evolves.” That is the essence of the seven-track, hour-long project: adventurous music where communication, inspiration and imagination have no boundaries. Although Gauthier is the leader and wrote four pieces, everyone supports each other and brings a sense of organization as well as unrestricted freedom.
Gauthier’s ominous opener “40 Lashes (with Mascara)” is notable for Fumo’s horn, which provides an elevated harmony to the low-note melody. He also operates as a counterpoint to Cline’s churning and veering electric guitar and special effects, which produce otherworldly and eerie sounds which often swirl and crash headlong into hard rock territory. Gauthier’s “Seashells and Balloons” takes diversity to a whole new level. The tune starts out judiciously straightforward, and then a carnival-esque melody begins which quickly becomes distorted and is subsequently sequenced through a freeform section where clear-cut rhythm, melody and lucidity are pushed aside and the sextet careens along. And somehow without a misstep, the melody and moderation emerge undamaged at the conclusion. The Miles Davis-ish “Prelude to a Bite” also has a foreboding spirit. Alex Cline and Hamilton extend a rock/fusion beat which marries a funky base with off-kilter rhythms, while Gauthier, Fumo and Nels Cline all soar atop the sharpened syncopation. Fumo evokes Davis’ early 1970s tone, while Nels Cline injects a stratum of guitar pyrotechnics akin to John Scofield or Larry Coryell and even at times Jimi Hendrix. If this wild shot to the gut is just a preface to mastication, one wonders what the actual teeth wounds would feel like.
Witham’s elegiac “From a Rainy Night” is a complete contrast. The all-acoustic composition has a hint of both Ralph Towner’s seventies material and Jean-Luc Ponty circa 1969 (hear Ponty’s Live at Donte’s as a comparison). The reflective piece is highlighted by Witham’s acoustic piano and Gauthier’s stirring violin and is as close as the album gets to standard post-bop. Another jazz-oriented workout is a dynamic interpretation of Ornette Coleman’s “Joy of a Toy,” which proves that abstract and unconventional can also be accessible. The group stretches Coleman’s tune in an expansive range of expressive perspectives which allows Nels Cline and Gauthier plenty of space while Alex Cline maintains a mostly insistent swing which nevertheless weaves in and out, which gives “Joy of a Toy” a skewed perception. There is a heartfelt ambiance to Eric von Essen’s “Things Past.” Everyone in The Jeff Gauthier Goatette has had some connection to the late composer and mentor, some in major ways, and so there is a tangible poignancy to this performance, in particular when Gauthier’s delicate, warm violin duets with Witham’s refined piano or when Fumo’s ghostly trumpet hovers above Hamilton’s subtle bass reverberations. Jazz and fringe (or alternative, non-mainstream) music does not consistently meld into an integrated unity, but Goatette fans can be guaranteed they will always find an interesting record. Open Source is an endeavor where the first listen is never enough: as long-time Gauthier followers know, this is not music meant for casual listening.
40 Lashes (with Mascara); From a Rainy Night; Seashells and Balloons; Prelude to a Bite; Things Past; Joy of a Toy; Open Source