Gest8 is the creation of saxophonist and composer Sandy Evans, and composer and bandleader Tony Gorman. The eight-member ensemble is, in some ways, an Australian quasi-equivalent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Bringing together a variety of traditional and electronic instruments in both formal and open contexts, the songs are each a mix of traditional composition techniques and avant-garde influenced eddies of sonic confluence. The group made its performance debut in 2004 at the inaugural JazzNow festival at the Sydney Opera House.
Overall the music is a mix of a wide variety of styles, including free jazz, traditional Japanese and Korean music, computer music, swing, rock, folk and contemporary classical. Each composition finds its own way with different instruments jumping in at odd moments to combine with others, and then leaving on their own accord. The term Kaleidoscope as the CD’s title is aptly appropriate.
The way the instrumental colors twirl and bounce off each other is made pleasing due to the way the elements of traditionally composed melodies serve as a common meeting place at different points in each composition. Whether the melody comes in near the end of the tune, as on "A Shower Of Sunbeams," or is almost non-existent, as on "Mosaic," only serves to enliven the proceedings, not detract from it.
There are occasional pieces that lay more towards the true experimental end of the spectrum. "Winter Flight," for example, opens with a collection of computer created sounds that remind one more of early Moog days than anything currently going on in today’s computer driven jazz. Eventually the instruments enter in layering patches of timbre before the full-on melody kicks up. Paul Cutlan’s traditionally oriented tenor saxophone solo is mixed with backgrounds provided by Satsuki Odamura’s koto and Phil Slater’s trumpet to marvelous effect.
While the ensemble uses improvisation as a basis from which to work both ahead in time, the forward-thinking concepts in both formal song construction and electronically computer driven effects mixed with conventional instrumentation and Eastern koto influence, and backward, the traditionally oriented jazz solos, the over effect is not one of confusion. Handled deftly, these musicians know how to stay out of each other’s way and still come together to create cogent thoughts.
While this music is not easily catagorizable, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer rewards. Each of the musicians is not just capable, but fully buys into the overall framework and melodic concept. Their points of convergence and wide range of styles is daring, traditional Dixieland on pieces like "The Emperor’s Old Clothes" and true Eastern as on "Inner Space," but still fresh. That they pull it off so cleanly is a testament to their open ears and minds.