The spirited, thoughtful music played by violinist Jeff Gauthier's Goatette is frequently reminiscent of the joyous, inventive sounds performed by early editions of Weather Report, the original Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Gauthier delivers stirring, lyrical solos, furious counterpoint, aggressive statements and dashing phrases, but he's neither Mask's sole star nor its most dominant player. Indeed, this is a genuine group effort. Some songs spotlight Nels Cline's rangy electric or sentimental 12-string acoustic guitar forays, while other lengthier pieces, like the nearly 18-minute title cut, rely as much on the rhythm section's exchanges as the frontline's unison and solo segments.
Pianist David Witham provides more interesting contributions on electric than acoustic, where he mostly settles for pleasant lines, competent solos and fleeting accompaniment. On electric, his loops, percussive fills and general sonic assaults add fire and edge to every solo. Drummer Alex Cline offers more rhythmic embellishment and underneath support than fiery textures or dazzling statements. Still, the band's quite captivating on multilayered works like "Mask," Nels Cline's "The Fools" or Alex Cline's "Forgiveness." Each of these songs has several discernible, almost rambling movements, with solo chores constantly shifting in unexpected fashion, and musicians switching from electric to acoustic then back again to provide surprise conclusions or subtle twists to passages.
While Mask features one fine cover, a rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Enfant," the group mainly plays original pieces and demonstrates its penchant for surprising and rewarding attentive listeners.