Cadence kingpin Bob Rusch has a reputable knack for putting his faith and funds toward the promotion of unsung saxophonists. Stephen Gauci is the latest in a formidable line that includes Ernie Krivda, Avram Fefer, James Finn, and Bill Gagliardi. But Gauci's story is a bit different from the others. In addition to the usual obstacles that commonly assail the creative improvising musician, he's had to contend with an auditory ailment that significantly hampers his hearing. He wears corrective aids in both ears to combat the problem, but it's also had a sizeable part in shaping his sound and approach in singular ways.
Gauci's CIMP debut as a leader is actually his third appearance on the Cadence family of labels. (An earlier trio recording for CJR and a sideman spot on a recent Michael Bisio quartet date constitute the others.) There also exists a self-produced duo disc on the saxophonist's own Gauchtime imprint, one that I would like to get my mitts on.
Jeremy Carlstedt is a new name to me, but his credentials include stints with New York City stalwarts like Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, among others. His readiness to play hard and precise propels the music forward with a welcome rhythmic veracity. Todd Nicholson is a veteran of bands under the leadership of Frank Lowe, Billy Bang, and Steve Swell. His plump bass tone thrives in the Spirit Room acoustics, fleshing out a flexible bottom end for the band.
Gauci's thrust here is more straightforward than on his earlier appearances. On the Bisio date he appeared preoccupied with tonal experimentation and an insular method of improvisation. The results were definitely appealing, but they also carried a slight whiff of aloof introversion. Here there's more evidence of his former teacher Joe Lovano. Plenty of flinty, energized blowing and a penchant for woolly bursts of multiphonics present themselves early on cuts like the opening title piece and "From the First, Not a Thing Is.
But also in league with the Lovano ethos, the trio establishes itself as resolutely swinging unit with affection for a winding melody-buttressed line that remains resilient to compromise. Even when they venture out, the assurance of an eventual return to traceable tempo and form sustains.
Gauci even tackles the standard "What's New, placing an indelible stamp through a gorgeously voiced extemporization that runs the entire length of the track. On "Emptiness foghorn trills that would make Joe Henderson blush with pride shear through a dense tumbling backdrop of thrumming bass and scuttling brushes. Gauci further employs the knife blade tone on the loping closer, "Thy Daily Grinder, slicing across a fat lurching rhythm with blustery honks and wails.
Critics are continually questioning the tenor/bass/drums trio as a viable creative vehicle. With players like Gauci endorsing and authenticating its virtues, the future of the form appears impervious to injury.
First Keep Quiet; Neither Free Nor Bound; Otolarynology; What
Stephen Gauci: tenor saxophone; Todd Nicholson: bass; Jeremy Carlstedt: drums.
(Recorded March 3 & 4, 2005, Rossie, NY.)
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