Wednesday, May 29, 2019

CD Review: Stephen Gauci's Live at the Bushwick Series, studio session with Cooper Moore

Stephen Gauci/Sandy Ewen/Adam Lane/Kevin Shea
Live at the Bushwick Series

Chris Welcome
Beyond All Things

Cooper Moore/Stephen Gauci
Studio Session Volume 1


If you happen to be in the New York area on a Monday night, get on over to the Bushwick Public House on Myrtle Street in Brooklyn. For the past two years (June marks the second anniversary), tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci has been hosting the Bushwick Series, a weekly improvised music event. Six different bands play from 7:00 pm to 12:30 pm, each week. (While that number seems a bit crowded, the Series seems to run smoothly, with everyone getting to play a short but full set.)

In an email he sent to me earlier this year, Gauci said he envisioned the night as a hybrid between a jam session and a concert series, giving the music a proper venue, with hopes that it would become a place for musicians to hang rather than simply play and split. It seems to have met his hopes. Not just younger musicians but a handful of more established players frequently drop by each week. At a time when any series might have trouble surviving and when improvising musicians struggle to find an audience, this event should be commended and supported.

Gauci live-streams sets each week on his Facebook page so folks outside New York can see what they're missing. The entire set of over 500 video performances can be found here as well. Two of these three releases on his label document live sets. The saxophonist plays each week with his trio of bassist Adam Lane and drummer Kevin Shea. On the night their CD was recorded (no date is listed) they were joined by prepared guitarist Sandy Ewen.

The three-track disc begins with an everyone-for-themselves feeling of free blowing. Gauci begins with some upper register wails over the skittering rhythm section. But the whole set features variety in their approach. In track two (no song titles are listed on any of these discs), the tenor gets loud a few times but he generally holds it down, playing some simple melodies while his partners run wild behind and around him. Shea gets particularly spastic, clattering at times like Tony Oxley. The final 22-minute track begins with some rapid plucking from Lane and goes on to alternate between free sections and themes presented by Gauci. Ewen's prepared axe adds percussive color through most of the set, but in the final seconds, she adopts a surfy twang as she and Gauci take things out.

Guitarist Chris Welcome is involved with several groups in New York, including Hot Date (a sound collage duo) and Chaser (a harder group), which both feature bassist Shayna Dulberger, who played with him on Beyond All Things. This 28-minute continuous performance also includes Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Kirk Knuffke (Bb & Eb cornets), Anthony Ware (alto sax), Sam Weinberg (tenor sax), Ben Gerstein (trombone, percussion), Mike Pride (drums, percussion). It begins with a joyous blast of gong crashes and horn blasts, not unlike the Art Ensemble of Chicago or the opening moments of a Sun Ra Arkestra performance from more recent years. The horns eventually play a loosely structured theme, with pedal drones still resonating beneath them. The whole piece sounds cohesive and spontaneous but a few count-in directions can be heard during the performance, implying that some music was written-down or pre-determined. The recurring themes feel a little dissonant or minor compared to the initial one. Yet moments like the interactions between Gerstein and Welcome (who must be using effects that often sound like primitive synthesizers) give the music plenty of energy and keep the mood rather festive.

Mike Watt of the Minutemen used to say that records were like flyers, meaning the recordings were meant to motivate listeners to come to the next show. That's exactly what these two discs do. Both have good sound quality, capturing the natural feel of a band in a room, without any production effects added to clean it up. It can make you wish you were there.

Incidentally, on Monday, June 3, Welcome's 10:45 set serves as a CD release show, according to the schedule. Judging from the personnel listed for that evening, it celebrates Beyond All Things. If I'm wrong that means he's already put out something new, in which case, more power to him.

Studio Session Vol. 1 breaks with the Bushwick Series setting, placing Gauci's tenor in the recording studio with pianist Cooper Moore. Together they create uninhibited energy music which moves loosely but also shows their high level of communication. When Cooper Moore introduces a subtle piano figure, Gauci responds in kind, figuring out what direction the music should take, harmonically. The saxophonist's altissimo range is particularly strong and he frequently uses it less as a method of wild punctuation and more like a vehicle for peeling off some intense melodies. His partner's work includes everything from fragmented arpeggios, notes hanging alone in the air and percussive sounds that could either be pedal manipulation or ten fingers rapping on the keys. While things get a bit raucous, especially during the final 11-minute track, the energy and rapport never dissipates during the album.

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