House of Return
From the swinging lilt of the noir-ish 3/4 ballad “Biko’s Blues” to the freeform exchanges on “House of Return” to the Zen-like calm and hellacious tumult of “Dizang” and the caustic skronking on “Friends of the Animals,” violinist Jeff Gauthier covers a wide stylistic range with his five-piece Goatette, an upstart Left Coast outfit now in its 15th year. It’s no wonder that his publishing moniker is Radical Moodswinger.
The chameleonlike guitarist Nels Cline, noted for his own experimental Nels Cline Singers and a valuable sideman with the high-profile rock band Wilco, shows a tastier, more intimate side here, particularly on the delicate Eric von Essen ballad “Biko’s Blues,” the chamberlike acoustic closer “Dissolution” and his own ethereal soundscape “I.O.A,” which recalls the spacious vibe of early Weather Report à la “Scarlet Woman.” But he also lets his Hendrix-inspired freak flag fly with an edgy, aggressive, wah-inflected solo on Gauthier’s “Friends of the Animals” while diving headlong into some Bill Frisell-styled looping and accelerated guitar effects on the violinist’s complex title track. Cline pays tribute to the late Joe Zawinul on his urgent, Mysterious Traveler-inspired “Satellites and Sideburns” and skronks up a storm on brother Alex’s yin-yang suite “Dizang,” which also serves as a potent vehicle for some audacious free-jazz bashing by the drumming half of the Cline twins.
Alex fuels the proceedings with a perfect balance of power, precision and freedom on the kit while bassist Joel Hamilton provides a solid anchor through both the swing-oriented and “totally out” fare. Keyboardist Dave Witham proves equally adept on acoustic piano and slightly distorted Fender Rhodes electric piano, helping to establish the proper mood swings from tune to tune. And Gauthier, a remarkably lyrical player, bold improviser and adventurous spirit, establishes himself as a formidable bandleader and force to be reckoned with. Highly recommended for open-minded listeners and fans of genre-bending, creative instrumental music.