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The Jeff Gauthier Goatette: Open Source

John Kelman By

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When two-thirds of a group has "effects" in their instrumental credits, it's a safe bet this ain't your granddaddy's jazz. When it's violinist Jeff Gauthier's Goatette, punctuating the quirky theme in the first moments of "40 Lashes (With Mascara)" with thundering drums and high-octane power chords, it's clear that Open Source is going to make plenty of demands—and not just on the musicians who play it.

Any group featuring the intrepid Cline twins—guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Alex Cline—is going to be, at the very least, an eclectic one, so it's also no surprise that Open Source travels effortlessly from rock-informed sophistication ("40 Lashes"), a combination of near-Oregonesque elegance and potent post-modality ("From a Rainy Night"), and acid-tinged circus nightmare ("Seashells and Balloons"), to unrelenting aggro ("Prelude to a Bite") and tone poem-turned-anthem ("Open Source")...even a bit of free-wheeling swing (Ornette Coleman's "Joy of a Toy").

Gauthier's 12 year-old quintet—Alex Cline, bassist Joel Hamilton and keyboardist David Witham actually predating the Goatette—is fleshed out, for the first time, to a sextet, with the inclusion of trumpeter John Fumo. It's not just the added voice that makes Open Source Gauthier's best and most far-reaching album yet—closing the gap since House of Return (Cryptogramophone, 2008)—but it sure doesn't hurt. Fumo's discography weighs heavily on work with artists including Neil Young, Brian Setzer, Chaka Khan and Debbie Gibson; but even if his work with G.E. Stinson, Vinny Golia and Steuart Leibig represent a far smaller footprint in a professional career that's successfully balanced the challenge of following your muse with paying the rent, Open Source leaves no doubt about this fearless improviser's street cred.

The Clines' relationship with Gauthier goes back to the 1980s and the all-acoustic Quartet Music, but it was when Nels joined the nascent Goatette for Mask (Cryptogramophone, 2001) that the violinist finally landed the perfect band to handle his far-reaching interests. A member of alt-country group Wilco since 2004, and whose decade-old Nels Cline Singers group last explored its particularly raucous nexus of form and freedom on Initiate (Cryptogramophone, 2010), the chameleon-like guitarist is, if not exactly restrained, certainly a little closer to center with Gauthier's inherent melodism. Alex—whose Continuation (Cryptogramophone, 2009) was the hardest-hitting album of his career—marries potent timekeeping with textural detail, across four Gauthier originals, one from Witham, the Coleman cover and a Goatette signature—an Eric von Essen tune (the gently lyrical "Things Past"), always included to remember the significance and influence of this too-soon-gone bassist.

Despite the seemingly inherent ceiling of the word "perfect," Gauthier's expanded Goatette manages to be even more perfect. As a writer, Gauthier works from a broad palette; as a violinist, from an equally unfettered stylistic purview combining improvisational abandon with the good taste to know when to go there—or not. Proving eclecticism needn't be synonymous with lack of stylistic focus, Open Source is, quite simply, one of the best of 2011, and certainly the high point of Gauthier's career to date.

Track Listing: 40 Lashes (With Mascara); From a Rainy Night; Seashells and Balloons; Prelude to a Bite; Things Past; Joy of a Toy; Open Source.

Personnel: Jeff Gauthier: violin, electric violin, effects; John Fumo: trumpet, effects; Nels Cline: electric guitar, classical guitar, effects; David Witham: piano, keyboards, effects; Joel Hamilton: bass; Alex Cline: drums, percussion.

Title: Open Source | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Cryptogramophone


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