When most of the members of a jazz lineup are credited with "effects" along with their respective instruments, there may be reason to suspect that a dependence on electronics may be masking a deficiency of technical skill. Such is not the case with the Jeff Gauthier Goatette. To the contrary, the group's expert balance between the cerebral and the accessible is most evident when the musicians leave the effects pedals alone.
Though Gauthier is based in Los Angeles, the violinist's post-bop conception mirrors the intellectual European approach, with a production style in the ECM ballpark. On One and the Same, he is abetted by a crew of exceptional performers consisting of pianist David Witham, bassist Joel Hamilton, prolific guitarist Nels Cline, and Nels' brother Alex on drums. The intermingling of fluid jazz violin with edgy rock-fueled guitar yields an uncanny sound, which the group augments with electronic textures of debatable necessity.
The album's introspective mood is strengthened by a predilection for brooding compositions, with two exceptions. Commencing with "Ahfufat," the band makes its intentions clear, following Gauthier's tuneful melody with a vigorous solo section awash in sound effects. Meanwhile, Nels Cline's angular "Don't Answer That" is the launching pad for some spirited blowing; a major standout of the disc, the track is tellingly its shortest.
The remainder of One and the Same is decidedly somber in tone. The late Eric von Essen is represented with two compositions, the exquisite "Solflicka" and a Goatette live staple, "Rina Pt. I." "Heart Wisdom" is a touching tribute to the Cline matriarch co-written by Gauthier and Witham; its odd time signature, haunting acoustic piano, and upper-fretboard guitar solo create an otherworldliness that resonates. Nels Cline's "A Corner of Morning" lulls the listener into a waking dream state, permeating the consciousness only as it approaches its final moments.
Bennie Maupin's "Water Torture" is the closest the disc comes to self-indulgence. Aside from the minimal groove that constitutes the head and a short duet between violin and arco bass, virtually the entire twelve-minute piece is given over to knob-twiddling. There is nothing groundbreaking about the effects, and they add little to the group dynamic, prompting one to question why they are utilized in the first place.
Given the CD's seventy-minute running time, the sonic exploration feels like extra baggage; without it the album would not only remain compelling, it would be more succinct. Even so, electro-jazz adherents may regard the spacier moments as highlights, further demonstrating the Jeff Gauthier Goatette's broad appeal.
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.