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Jeff Gauthier: Open

By Published: January 3, 2012
AAJ: You take more of a lead with regards to the songwriting than in the past, but just how much of a collective process was Open Source?

JG: Everything I write I consider to be a framework for improvisation. That being said, you're right that I brought more written music into this session than I have in the past. The core band has been together for so long that I tend to think of it as a collective environment where people can bring in their own tunes. Since Nels is so prolific, he often contributes music for the ensemble. However, his schedule was especially brutal this year, so he had to fly in and out for the session and didn't have time to write anything new. I also had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do for this album, so the music came together pretty organically, if not always easily.

AAJ: Has the Goatette's songwriting process changed much over the years?

JG: If anything, I suppose my writing has gone from being harmonic and jazz based to being more melodic and contrapuntal. This wasn't a conscious decision; I think I just ran up against my own limitations harmonically, and started going sideways instead of vertically. I've always loved the music of J.S. Bach, so the idea of harmony developing organically out of melodic interaction seems to have more of an attraction to me these days.

AAJ: There's tremendous breadth to the music on Open Source—there's dissonance and abstraction; there are very lyrical, pastoral passages, post-bop fire and a bit of electric jazz fusion, sci-fi effects, tight unison playing and great improvisation. At any point, did you think the CD might lose cohesion with such breadth, or did it just feel right? How much of a concern is it to find a balance, a flow?

JG: No, that's just what I do. I try to incorporate all the sounds I love into my music, and balance is always the key. I couldn't make a straight jazz album these days, any more than I could stop listening to different kinds of music. I truly admire musicians who can steep themselves in a particular musical language and advance it to the next level. However, if I have any gift at all, it's an ability to combine different musical elements in ways that are somewhat cohesive yet retain some kind of an original voice.

AAJ: Did much material get left on the cutting room floor?

JG: Nope.

AAJ: Open Source gets off to a roaring start with your composition "40 Lashes"—it sounds like it would make a great concert opener, no?

JG: We recently had some concerts in L.A. and New York where we mostly played the tunes from the new CD live, in sequence. Once I discovered the sequence for this album—a fairly arduous process, this time—it has been difficult to hear the tunes arranged any other way. They seem to work just as well live as on record.

AAJ: Nels Cline brings real bite to the music, and always has done so, but his use of classical guitar here and there is great, and it works almost subliminally. Would you talk about his playing on the CD in general, please?

JG: Nels knows my music and influences better than anyone, except perhaps Alex [Cline]. I've been playing with these guys for almost 30 years, yet they never cease to amaze me. Nels is so versatile and original that he always seems to choose the exact right sounds for the music, and it's rarely what you'd expect. I give him suggestions, of course, but he always takes them to the next level, even if that means laying back and fitting into the overall texture.

AAJ: Is it a challenge to blend acoustic and electric instrumentation, or after so many years playing is it easy? Playing live, it might sometimes be difficult to find the perfect mix.

JG: Actually, I rarely play the acoustic violin live with my band anymore, because after knocking myself out for so many years, I finally grew tired of fighting with the issues of volume, feedback and drum leakage. I've got a really good- sounding electric instrument that blends very well, so I don't really miss the acoustic instrument live at all. But I love playing the acoustic violin in acoustic performances without drums, and in the studio. That's one of the advantages of recording: you can do stuff in the studio that you can't do as well live.

AAJ: The soloing by everyone is just great. Was there much of a process in choosing between alternate takes, or did you instinctively know when you nailed a really tight version?

JG: This band has a history of working quickly, so having two full days in the studio was a bit of a luxury. I think we did two takes of most of the tunes, except for the title track, "Open Source," which was a one-take wonder. We also did a few edits, which consisted mostly of grafting the first half of one take onto the second half of another, usually to fix ensemble problems. Witham, Fumo and Nels are all great soloists, so their solos were uniformly great, but they did let me know some of their favorites, and I tried to incorporate them if I could.

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