Bagatellen review by Derek Taylor

Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuo – Nididhyasana (CF 101)

A no-drum zone by design, Stephen Gauci’s latest disc is still hardly devoid of percussive presence. Saxophone and trumpet take a voluntary backseat to dual basses on the opening piece, a counter-intuitive dynamic that recurs throughout the program. Michael Bisio and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten are both resourceful players with highly physical approaches. The interplay is high density and the tandem pizzicato mazes are at once daunting and immediately inviting, a crosshatch of thrums and percolations that prove conversational grist for the horns. Gauci uses Indian classical forms as an indirect source of inspiration in terms of composition titles and content.

“Nididhyasana” gains shape and weight over the expanse of a third of an hour. Its manifold tendrils undulate and intertwine at an accelerated pace, the bassists striking both the strings and the bodies of their instruments in a blend that is aggressively rhythmic. Bucking the historical positioning and decorum of their instruments, Gauci and Nate Wooley apply texture and color before returning to more note-based expression, the basses once again supplying a springy bulwark with which to bounce off of. Abruptly, it’s Gauci solo, his expressive trills and flutters soon replaced by the hooked needlepoint plucks of Bisio. Flaten’s arco takes over shortly thereafter, seesawing great tonal swathes that exude harmonic richness before diving into a cacophony of dissonance. A sustained collective drone signs the piece off with a meditative signature.

Occupying less than half the temporal space, “Dhriti” ramps up the intensity even further, culminating in a concentrated conflagration of pummeling string snaps and skirling horns. Gauci and Flaten monopolize the opening minutes of the sectional “Chitta Vilasa”, another excursion into extended and concentrated improvisation that turns attentions to several sub-groupings. Wooley and Bisio assert themselves roughly five minutes in for their own dialogue of pursed brass and scything classical-tinged bass. The full ensemble follows with Wooley generating a textured mosaic of abstract sounds on brass. The disc’s finale “Turyaga” clocks at a mere fraction of its predecessors but feels just as forceful. Continuing the streak first set by Gauci earlier trio outings, this new set establishes a propitious new context for his restless tenor in balancing intellect and muscle.

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