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Review of Jeff Gauthier's 'House of Return'

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Review of Jeff Gauthier's 'House of Return'
Courtesy of Cryptogramophone Records
Jeff Gauthier’s House of Return is the violinist and producer's latest release for Cryptogramophone Records, on which he presents an understated and beautiful collection of tracks ranging from lyrical modern jazz to collectively improvised texture pieces.

Experimental but Listenable

Gauthier is the founder of Cryptogramophone, a label dedicated to progressive music. Its catalog consists of recordings that don’t easily fall into any categories, such as the recent releases from Todd Sickafoose, Bennie Maupin, and Nels Cline. House of Return combines jazz, rock, free improvisation, and electronics into a rich and yet simple mural.

Gauthier’s ensemble, dubbed the “Goatette,” eschews convention while adhering to key principles of accessible music such as lyricism and brevity. Composed of violin, drums, bass, electric guitar, keyboards, and electronics, the ensemble risks growing dense and ugly. However, each member makes his statement in the simplest of terms, giving the group’s sound a reassuring lightness.

Highlights

The disc opens with “Biko’s Blues,” a composition by bassist Eric von Essen, Gauthier’s former collaborator who died in 1997. The track’s lush timbre is a result of the violin’s warm tone masterfully sensitive joint accompaniment by Nels Cline on guitar on David Witham on piano. Each member of the group, aside from drummer Alex Cline, takes a brief solo, and each is sure to maintain the wistful mood of the piece.

A smattering of spacey outbursts introduces the second track, “Friends of the Animals,” which soon gives way into a craggy groove, through which guitar and keyboard effects bubble and pop. Alex Cline drives the song with his quirky beat, ramping his intensity over hammering vamps. Bassist Joel Hamilton’s brief and flittering outpouring marks a point of high excitement, an unusual feat for a bass solo.

The title track begins with a mischievous improvisational conversation between the violin and the guitar, and the song’s structure moves between improvised sections of a similar nature, and driving, stately, composed sections.

Shortcomings

While the restraint of the album is one of its most significant features, it sometimes lapses into being a drawback. In the context of collective improvisation, it is often just right. When a soloist is featured however, there is feeling of hesitation that keeps the recording from reaching its emotional potential.

By the second half of the album, it is aching for an immoderate and reckless violin or guitar solo. This wouldn’t make the music any less accessible, but would instead increase its range of intensity, which spends a little too much time on the low side by way of atmospheric texture improvisations.

Keep Your Ears Open

Overall, “House of Return” is an example of the promise that progressive, genre defying improvised music holds. It is exciting to imagine what Gauthier and the other artists on Cryptogramophone have in store.

Release Date:

June 10, 2008

Personnel:

  • Jeff Gauthier – Violin
  • Alex Cline – Drums
  • Nels Cline – Guitar
  • David Witham – Keyboards, Electronics
  • Joel Hamilton – Bass

Track List:

  1. Biko’s Blues
  2. Friends of the Animals
  3. I.O.A.
  4. House of Return
  5. Dizang
  6. Satellites and Sideburns
  7. Dissolution
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