Jeff Gauthier: Open
JG: That's the work of our crack engineer Rich Breen. His genius starts with choosing the right studio for the project. How's the piano? How much isolation do we need? Using the right microphones and mic placementit goes on and on. It continues during the mixing process, as well. Rich knows just how to EQ every instrument and put it in its own acoustic space so that the blend and the imaging is just right. He's had his ears on almost every Cryptogramophone project, so he has effectively defined the sound of the label.
AAJ: The Witham composition "From a Rainy Night" is seemingly simple, but it has lots of subtlety, lots of layers, lots of nuance. Could you talk a little about this song and what Witham brings to the Goatette, please?
JG: I love that tune as well. Both Dave and I have serious [guitarist/composer] Ralph Towner damage, and "From a Rainy Night" is an older song of Dave's that comes squarely out of the Towner tradition. It's a flavor that I try to include on most of my albums, and it just happened that this was the tune that Dave contributed. Subtlety, layers and nuance just about defines the man David Witham.
AAJ:It seems there's a little of the spirit of the Mahavishnu Orchestra here and in some of the more serene passages of the CD. Is that a comparison you can relate to at all?
JG:We all listened a lot to Mahavishnu back in the day, especially Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971), but I think this album has more of a My Goals Beyond (Douglas, 1970) feel to it than Mahavishnu.
AAJ: Your own playing on Open Source is wonderful. It seems to inhabit a space between contemporary classical, jazz and folk. Could you talk a little about your approach to the violin? You tend to avoid the more strident extremes of the instrument.
JG: Thanks for the kind words. After we recorded Open Source we did some live performances, and the compositions started opening up a bit. Now when I listen to the recording, my playing sounds so careful and reserved. I wish I had taken a few more chances and maybe played a bit more stridently! However, that's the problem with recording. It's easier to take chances live rather than risk going for it on a recording and messing up a good take.
AAJ: You interpret [saxophonist/composer] Ornette Coleman's "Joy of a Toy"a wonderful excursion into post-bop and free improvisationand you've interpreted his music in the past, notably "Enfant" on One and the Same (Cryptogramophone, 2006). Were you influenced by his use of strings on Town Hall Concert (ESP Disc, 1962) or Skies of America (Columbia, 1972)?
JG: Ornette changed everyone's approach to improvising, at some point. I like playing his tunes because they come from a time in jazz when everything was on the table. The tunes are simple, and the forms are always a little bit different from what you'd expect, yet they have a kind of organic integrity that make them attractive vehicles for blowing. I've studied what Ornette has written about harmelodic music, but it still remains a mystery to me. But his is an intuitive approach to improvising that I can definitely relate to.
I can't say that his use of strings, other than his own violin playing, has had much of an influence on me. His own playing cracks me up, though, in a good way. So much of violin pedagogy is based on fear, that I truly appreciate when someone plays as fearlessly as he does and makes music. It serves as a reminder that technique isn't everything.
AAJ: The violin is not a widespread instrument in jazz. Does it surprise you a little that arguably the most expressive instrument of all, or at least the one that comes closest to the human voice, is not used more in jazz or popular music?
JG: The violin is pretty messed up, and the way people are taught to play it messes them up even more. I don't agree that it's the most expressive instrument. It has taken me years to learn how to breathe on the violin, and that's the very first thing you learn about playing a wind instrument. There are so many technical challenges to overcome that it doesn't surprise me that the violin isn't more common in jazz. It's so hard to find a voice on the instrument that doesn't sound too classical or too corny. Players like Mark Feldman and Dominique Piffarelly have really opened up the world of improvisation on the violin, but to take it to that level requires being steeped in everything from Stuff Smith to Alfred Schnittke. This takes a tremendous amount of talent and dedication. I'll never have that particular set of tools to work with, but I try to do the best I can with what I've got.