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Jeff Gauthier Goatette Pops the Cork on CryptoNight '04

Rex  Butters By

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CryptoNight founder Jeff Gauthier brought his musical dreamland of the heart to the stage at Club Tropical to open the 2004 edition of the growing music series. The Goatette, a five way musical friendship that endures, includes Nels Cline, guitar, Alex Cline, drums, Joel Hamilton bass, and David Witham, keyboards, the same lineup that recorded the sublime 2002 record the Mask. With more of an edge live, Gauthier’s music remains richly emotional, richly human, and somehow optimistic even when sorrowful, a nice balance of the earthy and the elegant.

The band performed the first four numbers without Nels Cline, who joined on the last tune in the first set, and remained with the band throughout the second set. Opening with “Les Cigales de Provence,” Witham played a small figure on piano and Gauthier introduced a romantic European theme that built sweetly, then burst into a solid groove. He and Witham doubled the line for dramatic effect. Acting as a scale, Alex Cline balanced the melodists with stirring cymbal work, while Hamilton dropped time with a knife thrower’s accuracy. Gauthier and Witham improvised, wandering the aching terrain. The rhythm section brought it up to gale force warning, with Alex gathering thunder. Hamilton stayed tight on the beat, while Witham whipped his keyboard. Past the crescendo, Gauthier pulls the ribbon of the theme through loom of the band.

For a total change of pace the quartet launched, “Seriously Twisted Blues,” a sprightly inside/out theme that shifted from hard swing and back to its toy shoppe melody. Witham rocked it on piano, and Hamilton played the driving wheel on this one. Alex got a crackling workout on drums, as Gauthier sauntered in, playing lightly then he skewered the head with blistering runs and subtle sketches. Before it ended, Alex played some frosty cool brushwork, trading licks with Hamilton.

A melancholy “If I Could Find the Words” had Witham playing an uncluttered meditation on piano. As Hamilton and Alex turned up the pressure, Witham created a tension continuing to play it simple. Gauthier walked through the melody, before solemnly doubling with Hamilton.

Nels Cline went to work on “Rina Pt 1,” a composition by former Goatette member, the late Eric Von Essen. He hung clear incisive chords as a framework for the band to build on. Taking the first solo, he continued to play in chords, sliding around like a quick witted spider. Alex kept the heat rising until the chords melted into notes that re-congealed back to chords. Shifting into swing rhythm, Witham takes an electric piano solo, and Gautier works the outer edges of the other four’s crunchy ride. He slashed through the dense group work, leading back to Nels’ hung chords and Dave’s Sun Ra inspired electronics.

With more bite than the recorded version, “Ephemera” from the Mask kept the rhythm easy while playing it punchy. Nels Cline spun Indian/Turkish influenced variations, while Gauthier played with fiery authority, seemingly aiming at sound sculpture even when tonal. A new untitled Nels piece found the string innovator on atmospheric wah-wah. Hamilton’s bass riff held everyone together. Nels Cline, fiddling with boxes, created spikes and shards. When Cline starts slapping around his effects boxes to alter unique sustained tone clusters, he has powerful impact on the musical dialogue. Always a team player, his contributions are nevertheless dynamic and defining.

The angular “Tango” with its near comic theme dissolved into a group improvisation of unlimited textures. Nels Cline broke into a flame fingered solo that found its way back into the head, and then yielded a sweet interlude. Gauthier led the soloists on Wayne Shorter’s “Etc., ” unpredictably sawing into the unknown. Witham dipped deeper into his electronics creating space travel soundtracks with Nels beaming his own satellite sounds. Letting his 12-string ring, he wrung tones and static from his battery of boxes.

Giving CryptoNight 2004 an auspicious beginning, the Goatette also showed they have enough new material to follow The Mask.

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