Saturday, December 15, 2007
Stephen Gauci's Basso Continuo - Nididhyasana (Clean Feed, 2007) ****
The Basso Continuo in the title of this album refers to the double "double basses" of Michael Bisio and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, with Nate Wooley on trumpet and Stephen Gauci on sax. An unusual line-up, but what what an album! The title track starts with both basses exploring the tune, reacting to each other, as a lead-in for Gauci's wonderfully warm and melodic tenor. The title means "uninterrupted contemplation", illustrating the spiritual elements underlying Gauci's music, which is spacious and open, but intimate, in the moment, in the notes almost. Wooley is the perfect counterpart for this : one of the best avant-garde jazz trumpeters of the moment, versatile, eloquent and creative. In the first track he brings the melody to a staccato rhythm, with one bass changing to arco, and then the whole quartet joins and the music they play is like layers of sound intermingling, fast, nervous, yet focused at the same time. The absense of percussion adds to the intimacy, yet the basses offer each other sufficient support to cover for that absence. The first track ends in some incredible bowed bass duet, over which Gauci plays plaintive emotional tones. The second track is more joyful to start with, with the horns echoing each other in long sustained tones, with a slow walking bass providing the rhythmic basis, but the mood gradually shifts to pumping basses and anxious horn sounds. The third track is my favorite, with some haunting sax-playing by Gauci, unusual experimental stuff by Wooley, evolving a into heart-rending bass-trumpet duet, then the other bass takes over with a simple line over which Gauci plays beautiful sax phrases. The last track is the shortest, starting very agitated by bass and trumpet, and the overall mood is not changing when the other bass and the tenor join. In short, this is very powerful, very open music, with lots of intensity. It shows that all musicians have played together before in one or the other band. Gauci's musical vision is one worth further exploring.