Jazz from the West Coast, USA has traditionally received a bum rap when compared to the more edgy music coming from the East Coast. Thankfully, the LA-based Cryptogramophone label is working hard to correct any misconceptions, with a body of work that has developed over the past five years to include a wide variety of music, the singular premise being a daring sense of adventure. Label founder Jeff Gauthier with his first solo release on Cryptogramophone, the stunning Mask
, goes a long way to showing, on one release, exactly what the label is all about.
Violinist Gauthier, while classically trained and with a background that includes work with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, is more informed by artists including Miles, Coltrane, Evans, Jarrett and Towner. As a violinist he has a fire and passion that is reminiscent of the late Polish violinist, Zbigniew Seifert. In fact, the opening track on Mask
, the 5/4 romp "Clea’s Bounce", could easily have come from Seifert’s 1979 session, Passion
Jeff’s group, affectionately called "Goatette" to institutionalize the lifelong humiliation of his childhood nickname, "The Goat", brings together Cryptogramophone label stalwarts Nels Cline and Alex Cline on guitars and percussion respectively, as well as David Witham on pianos and Joel Hamilton on bass. The group has a collective empathy and stylistic breadth that allows it to tackle whatever Gauthier throws at it. From the free-jazz of Ornette Coleman’s "Enfant" to Eric von Essen’s jazz-waltz "Waltz for K.P." to Alex Cline’s peaceful closer, "Forgiveness", the Goatette breathes together, and plays with a single voice.
Everyone plays with a confidence and capability that makes even the most difficult music feel natural and effortless. The title track, the centrepiece of the album and the most experimental, shifts easily between the four movements, and allows everyone a chance to stretch out. Gauthier, in particular, delivers an emotional solo, showing that he is a violinist to watch in improvised music.
As always, guitarist Nels Cline shows his chameleon-like ability to fit into any context. From the Ralph Towner-informed 12-string guitar of his tune "The Fools" to the John Abercrombie-like solo on "Forgiveness", Cline continues to display an uncanny ability to assimilate the styles of many contemporary guitarists into a distinctly personal style.
Brother Alex Cline is one of the few percussionists today who is as comfortable with a kit as he is with assorted percussion instruments. His tuned percussion in the open middle section of "Mask" lends an other-worldly feel to the piece.
"Ephemera (for Eric)" is an older Gauthier piece that, in its superimposition of a 4/4 over 3/4 feel, pays tribute to the late Eric von Essen, who often used this device. Sounding on one hand like something that could come from the Ralph Towner book, yet with a language all its own, this track successfully captures the feel of the 1980s group Quartet Music, in which Gauthier and the Cline brothers played with von Essen. It is clear that the spirit of von Essen continues to move Gauthier.Mask
is Gauthier’s third CD as a leader, and is a revelation to any who have not previously heard him. With a style that encompasses everything from fusion to free-jazz, from jazz-waltz to peaceful introspection, Mask
is another landmark release from the Cryptogramophone label. In the same way that many listeners buy recordings from the German ECM label "sight unseen", Cryptogramophone is developing a reputation for integrity and experimentation that should encourage the same ethic.