“Open source” is a smart way to describe violinist Jeff Gauthier’s music. It draws from a variety of genres—jazz, modern classical, rock, ambient—and it is created by a cast of musicians who seemingly have equal say in what goes on. Open Source is the sixth album by Gauthier’s so-called Goatette—trumpeter John Fumo, guitarist Nels Cline, pianist David Witham, bassist Joel Hamilton and drummer Alex Cline—and it brims with ingenuity, depth and feeling.
It opens with “40 Lashes (With Mascara),” a spacious fusion-style jam that processes everyone’s solos—trumpet, guitar, electric piano—with heavy echo. Gauthier (the founder of Cryptogramophone) crafts a melancholy but uplifting narrative behind Witham’s neoclassical figures on “From a Rainy Night,” and on “Seashells and Balloons” Gauthier and Fumo engage in a duet—a dance, really—that transforms into (of all things) a circus tune. Nels Cline finally gets to shred, in a frightening manner, on “Prelude to a Bite,” a funk-tinged jam (inspired by a cat) that employs a simple descending motif over and over.
After covering Eric von Essen (“Things Past”) and Ornette Coleman (“Joy of a Toy”), the quintet gets to the piece de resistance: the nearly 15-minute title tune. It begins with sparse sounds—a piece of percussion, a stray note from electric guitar. After 2:20, Gauthier begins bowing—a swirling, burbling electric violin—and Fumo blows freely. Atonal improvisation reigns until 3:50, when the melody becomes clear. But then it’s gone, returning only intermittently, separated by huge swaths of free improv. That underscores the other thing these guys have going for them, besides the democracy: trust in one another.