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Jeff Gauthier Mask Review

BBC Review

Violin driven contemporary jazz in an ECM/Oregon stylee from Jeff Gauthier, Nels Cline...

Bill Tilland 2002

The best word for this recording is 'impeccable'. The ensemble playing is lock tight, the soloists are eloquent; the seven pieces (five of them composed by group members) are literate and stimulating. The music seems to reveal new twists and turns, nuances, and depths of expression long after familiarity would normally have set in and begun to blur the edges. Even the CD cover art, a series of full colour photographs of tribal masks, is gorgeous.

Leader Gauthier is an elegant violinist, with a light, lyrical touch. He is sufficiently assertive on up-tempo numbers (and even indulges in a few avant gardisms on Ornette Coleman's Enfant), but he saves his real passion for the waltzes and ballads, where his playing vibrates with subtle but deep emotion.

Guitarist Nels Cline is seemingly a musician for all styles and seasons. He is nimble and eloquent on the slower numbers, flexes his muscles a little on the funky stuff, provides eerie, surreal effects of several sorts, especially on the title piece, and even displays great acoustic twelve string chops on several tunes.

Piano, drums and bass also shine, both individually and as parts of the collective whole. The creative energy of Alex Cline's drumming allows him to excel both rhythmically and as a colorist. Pianist David Witham, like other members of the group, sacrifices surface individuality for the greater good. He plays pitch-shifting electric piano on several tracks, and is alternatively funky, angular or mellow on acoustic piano, as the occasion demands. Bassist Joel Hamilton, who has a rich, dark tone, gets to step out a little on "The Fools", where he briefly switches to arco bass and duets with Gauthier's violin.

All this talent, a great band - and terrific tunes, too. Gauthier's long, episodic title track has a complex but dynamic theme, and it moves through a wide range of moods and emotions. "Ephemera" has Nels doing his best twelve-string Ralph Towner impression on a piece that joyously soars like Towner and Oregon's signature "Icarus".(The Goatette is quite often reminiscent of the Oregon group at its best, with Gauthier's violin assuming the role of Paul McCandless's oboe.) As composers, the Cline brothers both score big on "The Fools" and "Forgiveness" (Nels with the former, Alex the latter), which are poignant, expressive ballads. Throughout, Gauthier and his group show how it should be done, rooting themselves solidly in the jazz tradition while at the same time extending and revitalizing it. Not to be missed.

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