(128) Peter Margasak, Downbeat -- October 2006

This post-fusion quintet led by violinist Jeff Gauthier is made up of Los Angeles veterans who've been working together in different contexts for years. This is the group's fourth album, but until bassist Eric von Essen died in 1997, Gauthier and brothers Nels and Alex Cline (on guitar and drums respectively) had played together in Quartet Music. That history goes a long way in explaining this music, a deeply collaborative enterprise that puts more focus on collective texture as it does on extended soloing./>

There's a striking level of subtle interplay here, with coloristic fills and atmospheric explorations that transcend experimentation. The group builds masterfully concise sound worlds that stand on their own. That tact reaches its apex via the spooky minimalism of Bennie Maupin's "Water Torture," where effects-heavy arpeggiated guitar patterns, spacey keyboard licks and gauzy lines from the leader's instrument (he adds four and five string electric violin to a conventional model) float around one another, playing with dynamics, density and gorgeously rendered instrument combinations./>

Other pieces are more linear, with more conventional improvisation, but the various members freely add commentary -- not just simple vamps. The solos frequently veer from usual tonality into noisy, abstract territory. Cline's complex drumming proves essential to the task at hand: without ever getting either too fussy or simple, he provides an armature for the various stripes of improvisation, nicely shadowed by Joel Hamilton's strong but unobtrusive bass lines. Together they give Nels Cline, Gauthier, and keyboardist David Witham loads of space, which they treat with a nice mix of judiciousness and creative hunger./>

Peter Margasak
October 2006