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Jeff Gauthier: Open

Jeff Gauthier: Open
Ian Patterson By

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Violinist Jeff Gauthier has been a leading figure in cutting-edge jazz on the West Coast since the mid-'70s. As a leader, he's produced half a dozen compelling works with his band of 20 years, The Jeff Gauthier Goatette. Open Source (Cryptogramophone, 2011) finds the quartet grown to a quintet, with trumpeter John Fumo bringing added fire to what was already one of the most exciting combos in modern jazz. Open Source blends folkish, pastoral airs with a very modern jazz aesthetic typified by the unclassifiable, yet always arresting, playing of guitarist Nels Cline. Drummer Alex Cline and bassist Joel Hamilton conjure deep funk rhythms one minute and swing hard the next. Pianist David Witham weaves a subtle influence every step of the way, and the use of effects lends a sci-fi edginess to the recording, particularly on the epic through-composed title track.

Gauthier himself has never sounded better. His refined playing is imbued with lyricism, and is a tantalizing blend of Ornette Coleman-influenced freedom and classically informed grace. Open Source may only be the band's sixth CD in 20 years, but perhaps it's a case of less is more, for Open Source is probably the Goatette's best recording to date, and certainly one of the best jazz CDs of 2011.

As head of Cryptogramophone Records, Gauthier has made an enormous contribution to contemporary jazz/improvised music in Los Angeles. Originally set up in 1998 to record the compositions of the late bassist Eric Von Essen, Gauthier's label also helped to create a stable of outstanding musicians/composers, including guitarists Nels Cline and G.E.Stinson; woodwind multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia; pianists Myra Melford, David Witham and Alan Pasqua; cellist Erik Friedlander; bassists Steuart Leibig Mark Dresser and Todd Sickafoose; violinist Jenny Scheinman; clarinetist Ben Goldberg; and drummers Scott Amendola and Gregg Bendian. Gauthier, it seems, is driven to record state-of-the art, adventurous music not for profit, but because it deserves to be heard.

In addition, Gauthier co-produces the Angel City Jazz Festival, L.A.'s only non- commercial jazz festival, which promotes innovative West Coast musicians, as well as those from the other three corners of the world. The music, says Gauthier, is all about community. Gauthier, it is safe to say, for 35 years has made—and continues to make—a great impact on the evolution and growth of creative jazz music on the West Coast. They'll write a book about him one day.

All About Jazz: The title Open Source would have made a good name for your band, as there are so many different elements to the Goatette's music. When you look back at the music the Goatette was making 20 years ago, and look at where it is musically today, how would you describe the evolution of the sound?

Jeff Gauthier: The obvious evolution of the Goatette over the last 20 years has been the addition of electronics and the incorporation of guitar and trumpet. The band went from a mostly acoustic quartet to a sextet incorporating electronic instruments and effects.

AAJ: What was the catalyst for this change?

JG: I think something happened around eight years ago when I did some live performances of two old [keyboardist] Herbie Hancock albums, Mwandishi (Warner Brothers, 1971) and Crossings (Warner Brothers, 1972), which introduced some electronic sounds into the band. So, in a strange way, revisiting some older musical influences changed the sound of the Goatette to make it more forward looking. The name Open Source was attractive to me because of its many meanings and interpretations. Nels [Cline] was the first to point out that it kind of sounds like "Open Sores," which cracks me up.

AAJ: Obviously the addition of trumpeter John Fumo changes the group sound considerably. He brings so much to Open Source. How did he come to be in the band?

JG: John and I have worked together a lot over the years, mostly in [bassist/composer] Steuart Leibig's band Quartetto Stig. We recorded three albums with that band, and we've always had an intense musical hookup.

AAJ: He dovetails very nicely with you throughout the CD. Was there an easy understanding between you, or did it take a lot of rehearsal?

JG: It's not always easy for string and brass instruments to match sounds, but with John that has never been an issue. He also has great ears, and we've always been able to improvise well together, like on the intro to "Seashells and Balloons."

AAJ: Was it difficult for him to fit in straight away with a long- established band?

JG: His integration into the Goatette was pretty easy. We only had three rehearsals before the recording session, and a lot of the material came together at the last minute in the studio. Sometimes with musicians who have so much history together, less rehearsal allows for more spontaneity, especially if they've done their homework beforehand, which these guys obviously did.

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