Tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci seems to be making up for lost time. He didn’t step into the studio until six years ago at age 35. In the time since, the former student of Joe Lovano and George Garzone has been building up a discography that reveals a strong leader and sideman with a rugged tone and intriguing compositions. The quartet on Wisps of an Unknown Face includes trumpeter Nate Wooley and Gauci locking in with the versatile duo of bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi. Gauci often begins a solo with subdued bursts of melody, only to get more animated as he goes, breaking into overtones and wails, as he does on the album’s first two tracks. Grassi, always skilled at incorporating the nuances of his entire kit, turns the fire up and down as needed. After Grassi opens “my death?” with a tumbling solo, the horns play the seven-note melody over a walking bassline that yields plenty of exciting ideas coming from a simple launch pad. Wisps moves like that, sliding from free blowing into lyrical moments and concluding with a piece that at least nods toward the blues, via Filiano’s taut double stops.
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