Cryptogramophone 112

Perhaps this CD could be called Revenge Of The Pros. That’s because all of these California-based musicians have extensive experience working on commercial pop, funk and contemporary jazz dates as well as for film and TV soundtracks. This band however allows them to play their own music.

The problem is, that while the sounds here are heartfelt and obviously technically impeccable, they’re also much “prettier” than you would expect on a jazz date. Not that jazz necessarily has to be “ugly” to be hip, which is itself an outmoded concept, but when the Goatette’s twin touchstones seem to be modal-style impressionism on one hand and showy jazz rock on the other something has to suffer.

Take “Enfant”, a romping Ornette Coleman melody. Jeff Gauthier’s echoing violin flights are never going to be mistaken for Coleman’s — or come to think of it Ornette’s saxophone playing — but at least his work and the ringing tones of David Witham’s acoustic piano appear to have some congruence with the sentiment of the tune. But that can’t be said for the wild, steel-cold guitar runs of Nels Cline or the overstated drum parts of his twin brother Alex?

“Forgiveness” appears to suffer from the opposite predicament. Built around Bill Evans-like piano chords, the reading is almost too hushed and reverent. Because of that, the effectiveness of blending muted, resonating guitar and tempered violin playing one half step apart is buried in an ambiance that is more reminiscent of a tea dance than a night club.

With performances like this, it’s not hard to recall that pianist David Witham, who has been George Benson’s music director for more than a decade, has worked with pop-jazzers like Tom Scott, Grover Washington and Larry Carlton. Steady bassist Joel Hamilton’s associations ran the gamut from mainstreamer Eddie Daniels, smooth-jazz maven Dave Grusin and more experimental musicians like percussionist Gregg Bendian and multi-reedman Vinny Golia. Both Clines worked with Golia and with Gauthier made up three-quarters of the late bassist Eric Von Essen’s band.

Here, the violinist’s “Ephemera - for Eric”, which revolves upon Hamilton’s forceful bass and Nels Cline’s 12-string guitar, is more celebratory than morose. Although it deals with Von Essen’s untimely death, Gauthier’s bright, trebly tone tries to extend the late bassist’s airy musical ideas.

Gauthier, a former concert violinist, also has a varied resumé that takes in work with folks like mainstream pianist Jimmy Rowles, former Weather Reporter Peter Erskine and Golia. His more than 20 years of film and TV work have included “almost every Star Trek film and TV show spin-off known to man”.

This understanding of popular culture and cinematic scope helps those compositions that are more memorable. “Clea’s Bounce”, for instance, written in 5/4 time, is a funky, near-rocker that twists and turns through a shuffle drum rhythm, 1970s-style electric piano fills and guitar work that recalls jazz-studio cats like Howard Roberts. Taking the place of a horn, Gauthier’s arching fiddle comes with the kind of clean, swinging articulation that a pre-fusion Jean-Luc Ponty liked to play.

Then there’s the title tune, an almost 18-minute, four-part suite, written by Gauthier during a Mexican vacation trip. Surprisingly lacking a Spanish motif, it begins by centring on snaky LA crime drama piano shading, harsh guitar lines and hard rock drumming, and ends up utilizing silences as well as sounds. Later ghostly tones are succeeded by stately Oriental-sounding court music, complete with whistling winds and shimmering gongs. Gauthier’s rococo string stylings extend this Chinatown/LA Confidential mood a little further, though a pyrotechical guitar sample, heavy on the whammy bar seems to move it into Wayne’s World Territory.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Clea’s Bounce 2. Waltz for K.P. 3. Enfant 4. The Fools 5. Ephemera - for Eric 6. The Mask 7. Forgiveness

Personnel: Jeff Gauthier (violin, electric violin); Nels Cline (guitar, 12-string guitar); David Witham (piano, electric piano); Joel Hamilton (bass); Alex Cline (drums, percussion)