Despite its considerably smaller output, the Los Angeles-based Cryptogramophone label could well be considered the American companion to ECM Records' distinctive aesthetic. Attention to sound quality and packaging has been integral to the label's approximately thirty releases, which have ranged from graceful elegance to outré experimentation, comprising a discography that's as worthy of brand loyalty as the larger one associated with Cryptogramophone's older German cousin.
The only down side for Gauthier the label owner is that it cuts into the time of Gauthier the musician. An accomplished violinist and active member of the edgy Left Coast scene which has been spearheaded in part by woodwind multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia, he's led his own group for nearly fifteen years but has only released four albums. Bassist Joel Hamilton replaced Eric Von Essen (who passed away in 1997) and Nels Cline joined the group for the Goatette's official debut on record, Mask (2002), but otherwise the balance of the unit—keyboardist David Witham and Nels' twin brother Alex on percussion—has been stable since Gauthier's Nine Winds quartet debut over a decade ago.
Von Essen was a musical giant whose life was cut tragically short, so it's significant that Gauthier continues to bring the bassist's compelling compositions to light—this time the swinging "Rina Pt. 1" and the idiosyncratic and harmonically complex, but still accessible "Solflicka." Rounding out the set are two Gauthier compositions (the high-energy but eminently lyrical "Ahfufat" and the irregular-metered "Heart Wisdom," co-written with Witham), two by Nels Cline (the wryly quirky "Don't Answer That" and the broodingly beautiful "A Corner of Morning") and one by reedman Bennie Maupin ("Water Torture," which alternates between insistent groove and periods of greater free play).
While strong soloing from five players who continue to evolve independent voices is almost a given, it's remarkable how the group aesthetic has developed since Mask, with a deeper yet more subtle sense of interaction. Everyone's broad interests inform that aesthetic, and their individual styles are unmistakable—in particular Nels Cline, one of the most chameleon-like guitarists on the planet, whose playing manages to remain instantly recognizable, whether with indie rockers Wilco or his own Singers trio. Still, the Goatette's lithe approach to everything from strict form to extended freedom speaks with its own voice. Nels Cline remains an unfettered player, but his tone, while considerably effected, is less aggressive; Gauthier's sound is warm, avoiding the sometimes shrill tendency of his instrument.
Gauthier may be too busy to record his own projects with greater frequency, but One and the Same was well worth the wait.