Jazz music, news and views

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Jeff Gauthier Goatette @ the Palmer Room

Last Thursday, I walked a few blocks down to the Palmer Room for the CD release party of violinist Jeff Gauthier's latest album, House of Return. The founder and owner of Cryptogramophone Records was flanked by his longtime colleagues pianist David Witham, bassist Joel Hamilton, and drummer Alex Cline. Guitarist Nels Cline, Alex's twin brother and the fifth member of the Goatette, was absent from this performance. I'm a huge fan of Nels, but it never really struck me that any element was missing from the evening's music. The foursome filled the space nicely -- and left space in the right moments, as well.

As is often the case with Gauthier's performances, the spirit of Eric von Essen was present throughout. The lush waltz, "Biko's Blues," House of Return's opening track, has von Essen's tuneful signature all over it. Gauthier gave a graceful violin feature followed by a spirited solo from Hamilton, both touching tributes to the composer's lyricism. Gauthier wailed elegantly on "Solflicka," another von Essen gem from an earlier Goatette release, One and the Same. It also showcased some crisp, tasty brushwork from Cline over Witham's sonorous accompaniment, insistent and beautiful like tolling bells.

The adventurous quartet took a detour from their own songbook to pay homage to the late Esbjorn Svensson with a reading of E.S.T.'s "From Gagarin's Point of View." Witham channeled Svensson's style with some plush chord voicings under Gauthier's eerie ponticello while Hamilton and Cline held down an tasteful, spacious vamp. This segued into a free-improv section with Cline's screeching cymbals and explosive drums, Hamilton's sawing arco bass, and Witham plucking the piano strings. It was the joyously clangorous, unsettling kind of spontaneity that could come only from the Goatette.

Other set highlights from the new album included "Satellites and Sideburns" (a number by Nels in tribute to Joe Zawinul), where Witham pulled out all the stops in a fitting space-age keyboard feature. Gauthier poured his energy into the fun, raucous "Friends of the Animals" driven by Cline's trashy grooves and skittering, sizzling cymbal technique. "Dissolution"'s abstract, contemporary classical intro gave way to cascading chords and textures with an organic seamlessness that truly showed how unified and selfless this ensemble is.

Downbeast, the official Crypto blog, has another first-hand account with the full set list and will probably have some video in the near future.

These players are on intimate terms with so many different strains of "the tradition," and they depart from it naturally with intelligence and deeply personal styles. See any of these players live when you can, and check out House of Return, another fine release from Crypto's fearless leader.

House of Return (Cryptogramophone)
Jeff Gauthier (violin)
Nels Cline (guitar)
David Witham (piano, keyboards)
Joel Hamilton (bass)
Alex Cline (drums, percussion)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Return to Blogging, Talkin' Jazz, Up the Downstair, etc.

Man, another two months and no blogging. My apologies to the small handful of probably-now-infrequent SWO readers. A new day job and moving into a new apartment in, essentially, a new city (though still LA) have waylaid what I had intended to be my blogging schedule. I know, of course, you have plenty of other places to hear great tunes and read interesting opinions. Since you're reading this, thanks for always coming back to check!

A couple items of note:

At long last, "Talkin' Jazz with Scott Willis" has its own website. Of course, we still have the MySpace page, but I like how simple and spiffy our new site looks. Not everything is up-to-date yet, but we'll be cleaning it up soon. Thanks much to Rory Ray, our web designer.

Also, I know many SWO visitors click-thru to Up the Downstair -- a wise detour, no matter what your musical tastes are. Skip, UtD's impressario, asked me to write a post on Miles Davis, specifically his early years, to accompany a rare 1949 broadcast he has posted. This is an interesting listen because it captures him at a key moment in his career. It was only five days before the first Birth of the Cool recording session, but Miles was still playing bebop (and still playing with Bird here and there). Between these two opportunities, he was beginning to find his own voice. Thanks very much to Skip for giving me the chance to talk about the music.
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