The Jeff Gauthier Goatette: Open Source (2011)
Open Source would have made a good alternative name for violinist Jeff Gauthier's ensemble, as it draws inspiration from myriad sources. Goatette continues its near twenty-year journey into territory ranging from avant-garde and sci-fi soundscapes, and deep funk grooves colored by searing electric guitar, to an altogether more pastoral melodicism reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at its most serene. Now a sextet with the addition of trumpeter John Fumo, the widely traveled musician steers a course between post-bop and electric jazz-fusion. His voice, whether striding out on his own or blending beautifully with Gauthier's violin, makes a great impression and adds new depth to the ensemble sound.
Crunching guitar, drums and bass unison riffs launch Gauthier's "40 Lashes (With Mascara)," separated by brief, almost classical trumpet and violin motifs. Bassist Joel Hamilton and drummer Alex Cline forge a wicked groove, while Dave Witham's grungy, distorted keyboard solo stirs up some serious sonic waves, like Bojan Z in a dark mood. Fumo follows with a concise, vibrant statement, before guitarist Nels Cline ups the ante with a ferocious, effects-laden assault that sounds like a bunch of cats scrapping. It's a dramatic and compelling opener.
Witham's little gem, "From a Rainy Night," has a hint of Mahavishnu Orchestra's grace about it. Trumpet and violin trace the melody, while piano dances lightly. Liftoff comes almost surreptitiously, but the gathering momentum is enveloping. Propulsive drumming dominates, while Nels Cline's classical guitar registers almost subliminally. Gauthier's beautifully weighted yet zesty solo is the heart of a song which simply seduces from the first note. The leader's buoyant, folk-colored, classically-informed improvisations throughout Open Source walk a line between timeless tradition and modern verve.
"Seashells and Balloons" flits between form and chaos, the elegant trumpet and violin intro giving way to a stuttering waltzall jagged piano, jittery accordion and stumbling percussion, as if Tom Waits had been drinking all night with left-field multi-instrumentalist/instrument inventor Harry Partch. It's a curio of some ambition, but in a recording of tremendous compositional breadth, no anomaly. "Prelude to a Bite" is more structurally spacious, and features meaty solos from Fumobristling like electric-period Miles Davisand Nels Cline, with a rattling conclusion from twin brother Alex. The gentle lyricism of the piano-dominated "Things Past" provides another example of the late bassist/pianist Eric Von Essen's composing strengths, and features muted trumpet and beautifully serene violin.
The intensity is ratcheted up a notch or two on saxophonist Ornette Coleman's episodic "Joy of a Toy," from 1960, which goes from tightly knit post-bop charge to more out-there improvisation. Nels Cline's twisted blues lines provide the pick of a crop of exuberant solos. And at almost fifteen minutes, the epic title track moves from spacey melancholy through neoclassical melodies and noise abstractions. The sextet emerges into more clearly defined rhythmic territory, with Gauthier and Fumo weaving melodic lines around each other as effects rage like a galactic storm.
Whilst Goatette references jazz's past, its approach is nevertheless utterly modern and makes for absorbing listening. Open Source is a boldly inventive collective statement by a soaring ensemble that may not have even peaked yet.
Track Listing: 40 Lashes (With Mascara); From a Rainy Night; Seashells and Balloons; Prelude to a Bite; Things Past; Joy of a Toy; Open Source
Personnel: Jeff Gauthier: violin, electric violin, effects; John Fumo: trumpet, effects; Nels Cline: electric guitar, classical guitar, effects; David Witham: piano, keyboards, effects; Joel Hamilton: bass; Alex Cline: drums, percussion.