Long, long before Nels Cline had attained his current status as one of the most original, fearless and bad-assed electric guitarists around, he was an obscure twenty-something acoustic guitarist playing in a small, acoustic combo called Quartet Music, that made four record in the 80s, all currently our of print. This mini-orchestra" also had in it Nels' twin brother Alex on drums, the late, great Eric von Essen on acoustic bass, and a violinist named Jeff Gauthier. In the early 90s, this band had disintegrated, but by then, all have gone on to bigger and better things.
We all know what's become of Cline, but Gauthier didn't exactly sit still, either. He had produced for others, like Peter Erskine, Bennie Maupin, Alan Pasqua, Ben Goldberg, Jenny Scheinman and many of Cline's own records. In 1998, he founded the Cryptogramaphone record label. And since 1992, he's lead his own ensemble, The Jeff Gauthier Goatette.
The Goatette has served as sort of the de facto continuation of Quartet Music, with all four Goatette records including the Cline brothers, as Joel Hamilton handles bass, and David Witham supplies keyboards. This forth record, Open Source, adds trumpet player John Fumo. It's clear, though, that the Goatette serves Gauthier's musical vision, as the music doesn't quite sound like something the Clines or Witham wold make on their own records.
Gauthier's music is hard to wrap one's mind around; not because it's difficult to listen to, just difficult to conceptually compartmentalize. Which probably suits Gauthier just fine. Having been schooled on classical violin and still citing JS Bach as his primary influence, his Goatette mixes that in with jazz, rock, folk and free improvisation. His songs often have more than one harmonic idea presented in it, and oftentimes melodies will appear to pop out of improvisational passages. The addition of Fumo is an impactful one. Fumo makes a great foil to Gauthier, whether it's providing harmony to the melody, amplifying the melody, or just acting as a counterpoint.
Gauthier is responsible for composing four of the seven tracks for the album, and it's on these cuts where most of the spontaneity are worked into chamber type settings. 40 lashes (With Mascara)" is distinguished by note progressions punctuated by a four-beat note. As electronic noises swirl around, the crashing about in open spaces sets a rock tone to start the record. Seashells And Balloons" starts with a carnival-like melody that gets contorted, run through a freeform jazz wringer and somehow makes it out the other side intact. Prelude To A Bite" (video below) is Gauthier's most provocative piece on here. Alex Cline's rock-ish shuffle, something he is fantastic at doing, lays a funky foundation on which Gauthier, Fumo and Nels all dance upon; Fumo's solo just soars with intelligent, syncopated phrasing. The title track at the end is the major piece of this collection of songs. It's moody and contemplative for more than half of its fifteen minutes, moving from chamber music to experimental electronica so subtly, you don't even notice it. Two thirds the way in, the song finally picks up momentum and a perceptible identity.
Witham's From A Rainy Night" and von Essen's Things Past" are both lightly dancing acoustic numbers suggestive of Ralph Towner and offers clues of what the Quartet Music must have sounded like (von Essen's tune was often performed by the Quartet in live performances). Ornette Coleman's Joy Of A Toy" is ironically the closest the Goatette comes to straight ahead jazz, retaining the merriment of Coleman's original, but breaks down the melody and reconstructs it about halfway through. Gauthier and especially Nels Cline log impassioned solos; this is probably Cline's best moment on the whole record.
This assemblage of extremely talented musicians led by one of the most overlooked violinist in jazz and fringe music guaranteed that this was going to be an interesting record. And Open Source is. But don't expect to get it" on the first listen. Jeff Gauthier doesn't cater to casual listening, but has rewards at hand for those who listen for the subtle intricacies and unconventionally creative music.