One of reasons label boss and tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci appreciates performing with Texan guitarist Sandy Ewen so much is that she doesn't play anything which demands a rote response. Ewen forms one quarter of Gauci's regular quartet, which appears on Live At The Bushwick Series (Gaucimusic, 2019) and Studio Sessions Volume 5 (Gaucimusic, 2020), but on Studio Sessions Volume 6, she claims equal billing with the reedman on a program of eight seat-of-the-pants journeys into the unknown.
The pared back instrumentation highlights the duo's interaction. But perhaps interaction is not quite the right word, as there is rarely any explicit connection between what they do on the surface. There's none of the customary mirroring or echoing which might reassure listeners that both are on the same page. Instead the empathy manifests in terms of shared pacing, dynamics and appreciation of space.
Gauci has developed an unsettlingly original approach, which possesses some of the characteristics of the late David S. Ware, in its thorough exploration of the altissimo heights and co-option of multiphonics, although in Gauci's case his lines are largely shorn of blues inflections and a sense of momentum. Particularly on this album he lingers in a gnarly middle register, and on occasion, like on "Improvisation 8," even reveals hints of his hard bop groundings, although his deconstructed phrases are devoid of context. But whatever he plays, it always sounds like a tenor saxophone, albeit one pushed towards the extremes.
That's not the case with Ewen, whose style has evolved to suggest little semblance to the guitar as a stringed chordal instrument. She produces the sort of groans, gurgles and rattles not usually associated with her axe along with more expected scuffs, scrapes, crackles and hums. However she becomes more conventional sounding as the session goes on, and by the time of the lengthy "Improvisation 6" fingers on strings are almost discernable.
The musicians maintain near constant dialogue, although the joint flurries exist out of tempo and tonality and avoid predictable logic or structure. In two parts, "Improvisation 2" offers an illustration: the first of falsetto veering into guttural blurts while guitar conjures faulty plumbing and detuned reverberations; while the second comprises very quiet pure electronic tones, which after a pause draw Gauci to riposte with an unexpected tentative lyricism.
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