One And The Same
is violinist Jeff Gauthier's fourth recording with his Goatette quintet and his second on the Cryptogramophone label, of which he is also founder and producer. But Gauthier's group is no mere vanity project. His roots in West Coast improvisation reach back two and a half decades, most notably to the co-founding of the seminal group Quartet Music with the late bassist Eric Von Essen, guitarist Nels Cline and his brother, drummer Alex Cline, in the late 1970s. Nels and Alex are also charter members of Gauthier's Goatette, which includes two other veteran collaborators, bassist Joe Hamilton and keyboardist David Witham. This ensemble defies obvious comparisons to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, despite the parallel instrumental lineup and post-fusion aesthetic.
Eschewing staid fusion tropes, the group avoids flashy virtuosity and endless jamming in favor of delicate introspective ballads, expansive psychedelic excursions, folksy waltz melodies and bracing but restrained free jazz workouts. By trading relentless electronic turmoil for nuanced lyricism and melodious abstraction, Gauthier proves that elation needn't come at the cost of beauty. Channeling the acoustic work of Oregon and the early electronic experiments of Weather Report, One And The Same weaves a subtle but invigorating tapestry.
Gauthier even coaxes out an understated side of Nels Cline's typically explosive playing, providing a showcase for some of his most delicate fretwork. Cline's resplendent statement on "Heart Wisdom" illuminates his capacity for rich lyricism. His own tune, "Don't Answer That," demonstrates solid jazz chops with a jittery, fragmented solo. But Nels isn't totally subdued; he and Alex go head to head on the invigorating opening of "Rina, Part 1." "Ahfufat" is even wilderlooped and delayed guitar shards commingle with Witham's spacey Fender Rhodes-like extraterrestrial distress signals.
The leader's own playing is tuneful, measured and refined. Resisting the urge to break into double-timed abandon over the roiling undercurrent of "Ahfufat," Gauthier shows restraint, his violin soaring lithely over the tumultuous miasma. With equitable leadership, he arranges a string of vivacious solos for the group on the jaunty free bop of "Don't Answer That." But atmospheric introspection reigns supreme, and "A Corner of Morning" closes the album on a lyrical, melancholy note. Featuring two sublime covers from the late Eric Von Essen and a haunting interpretation of Bennie Maupin's "Water Torture" (one of Herbie Hancock's early Sextant pieces), Gauthier establishes his lineage with the past.
Jeff Gauthier's work stands apart from his contemporaries not simply by what he does, but what he chooses not to do. Favoring elegance and splendor over pyrotechnics and intensity, Gauthier is an island in a sea of imitators.
Personnel: Jeff Gauthier: violin, electric 4 and 5 string violins, effects; Nels Cline: electric guitars, effects;
David Witham: piano, keyboards, effects; Joel Hamilton: bass; Alex Cline: drums, percussion.