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)