If you want to avoid compromise, then starting your own label appears a sound strategy. That's the road traveled by NYC-native saxophonist Stephen Gauci with his eponymous imprint. Since its inception in 2019, releases have been split between live recordings from the Bushwick Improvisers Series which Gauci runs and studio sessions, all of which so far have featured the reedman in a variety of settings, from his quartet with Sandy Ewen, Adam Lane and Kevin Shea, to his duo with pianist Cooper-Moore. Volume 4 draws from a still wider pool, presenting Gauci in the company of a pair of Bay Area transplants, guitarist Ava Mendoza and drummer Vijay Anderson.
Like trying to drink from a fire hose, the threesome puts out so much information that channeling that energy into a dozen concentrated blasts of free jazz skronk makes eminent sense. At times they come on like a power trio, with Gauci's overblown textures driven by Mendoza's amalgam of no-wave weirdness and state-of-the-art chops, and Anderson's thudding kick-drum and crisp cymbal sizzle which rarely lets the temperature drop below a simmer.
Once you get past the red-lining intensity, connections can be discerned in terms of dynamics and pacing rather than shared phrases. Occasional reflective passages occur after the cathartic blowouts, but more often resolution isn't on the menu. Gauci typically cuts across any straight track, as his brawny bottom end multiphonics veer into the falsetto register that unpredictability forms the lingua franca of this unit. You can't second guess how the improvs will unfold, except to note their predilection for the extremes.
Whether recorded in the order presented or not, the program traces an arc from foot-to-the-floor tumult to greater nuance and diversion into spacious interludes as the disc progresses. Among the standout moments are the way Mendoza tempers her fuzzed wall-of-sound with a liquid jitter to provide a counterweight to the saxophonist's squeal on "Improvisation 4," Gauci's howl braided through the guitarist's ringing sustains on "Improvisation 5," and the pointillist exchange which initially suggests a snoozing beast, only to stir to a full on roar, on "Improvisation 11."
In a group dedicated to hardnosed expression, all three speak in distinctive voices, fashioning a music which packs the proverbial punch but does so in an array of striking hand wear.
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