(139) Nate Dorward, Signal to Noise -- Fall 2008

Jeff Gauthier is the head of Cryptogramophone, a Los Angeles label that makes a point of high-quality presentation--handsome packaging and spiffy studio sound--without laying the dead hand of a house style or boutique aesthetic on the music itself. He's also himself a fine violinist, whose main outlet for his own work is the not-quite-self-titled Goatette, a five piece ensemble that includes pianist David Witham, bassist Joel Hamilton, and the unbeatable team of Nels and Alex Cline on guitar and drums. Two spirits preside over their newest disc House of Return: the late Eric von Essen (the previous occupant of the group's bass chair) and the recently departed Joe Zawinul. Gauthier has been a stron advocate over the years for von Essen's work as a composer, and this CD comes bookended by two striking pieces from his hand. "Biko's Blues" is a lush minor-key waltz in a line descended from Johnny Carisi's "Isreal"--the sort of mainstream jazz you wouldn't expect from these guys, but they handle it superbly. "Dissolution" is a more contemporary-sounding piece, a spacey rubato ballad given an unusual coloration by Nels's 12-string guitar; its melody has an intriguing emotional/harmonic contour, constantly swerving away from expected rhapsodic payoffs into darker areas. The rest of the disc is in more of a jazz-rock bag, with excursions into free play and some ambitious multipart structures. Nels's two pieces both reference Zawinul's wrk with Weather Report: "I.O.A" is a mellow groove that gives you the sensation of floating off into space, while "Satellites and Sideburns" is a tasty melange of collectivist sound collage and joyous, tightly scripted grooves, exploring different sides of Weather Report's legacy. Electronics are used in an understated but pervasive way throughout the disc: on the intro to the title-track, for instance, Gauthier and Nels Cline use them to gently squeeze and stretch their instruments sounds; elsewhere, discreet sound-scaping adds freaky touches to the psychedelic rock-out of "Friends of the Animals" and swirling electronic nebulae to Alex Cline's "Dizang." Aside from the Clines and the leader himself, there's the first-rate work from Hamilton and especially the unheralded Witham, a player who really deserves more attention: give a listen to his work on "House of Return" in particular, a slalom course that veers from angular jazz-rock to roiling free jazz to strutting swing. -by Nate Dorward

Nate Dorward
Signal to Noise
Fall 2008