Thom Gossage Other Voices: In Other Words

The hour-long In Other Words is the fifth recording from Montreal percussionist Thom Gossage's Other Voices, which the drummer established in 1998 as a vehicle for his writing and which assumed its current form in 2005 when guitarist Steve Raegele joined (fleshing out the quintet are bassist Miles Perkin and saxophonists Frank Lozano and Rémi Bolduc, the former on tenor and soprano and the latter on alto). Gossage draws upon a number of strategies in working out his material. Tone rows, atonality, suspension and release, and intuition all form parts of the puzzle; melodies are sometimes voiced in unison or in counterpoint, and rhythms are at certain moments clearly set and elsewhere handled elastically. There is an admittedly intellectual foundation for the album's pieces; in the liner notes, Gossage describes the starting points he used for the settings and clarifies how an abstract painting by choreographer Isabelle Van Grimde helped him to consider how he might use an originating figure as the seed from which a given composition could grow. The album's nine pieces are anything but sterile academic exercises, however. That the music packs a visceral punch and is permeated with immediacy can be to a large degree attributed to the inventive contributions his players bring to the project.

Getting the album off arrestingly, the twang of a Jew's Harp introduces “Id Est (In Other Words)” before the saxes enter, first aflutter and then weaving acrobatic lines alongside Raegele's explorations. Here and elsewhere, his spidery guitar lines act in a textural manner reminiscent of Bern Nix's in Ornette's Prime Time, and the sax players' melodic statements often exude an acerbic, keening wail that likewise calls Ornette's own playing to mind. Gossage, on the other hand, adopts a colouristic role, keenly sensitive to the directions pursued by his band-mates. The disc often alternates between restrained, open-ended explorations and aggressive roughhousing, sometimes in the same piece: following an opening salvo of hammering chords, “Counter Counter Clockwise,” for example, eases into a honking march mode before moving into quieter passages of mysterioso moodscaping. The electronic side of Gossage's music comes to the fore in “Ab Infra Prologue,” a soundscape from a dance score (Bodies to Bodies, Metz.), though the electronic dimension is gradually supplanted by an intricate weave of sax, guitar, and bowed bass patterns. Exotic percussion and high-pitched sax flutterings give “Inari” a Far East feel in its opening moments, while in “Ab Infra (From Within)” the saxes indulge in wild, freewheeling cross-talk during the entropic flow, the material threatening at moments to collapse altogether. An occasional influence can be discerned in the individuals' styles, such as when Raegele, for instance, offers up some Frisellesque moments during “Inari” and “Your Number(s).”

What's most appealing about the album's material and style is its unselfconscious embrace of an experimental approach that feels galaxies removed from the kind of retrograde turn jazz took when Wynton Marsalis arrived on the scene. Gossage's band and its individual players are adventurous in the best sense of the word, and their avant jazz, to its credit, sits comfortably alongside the Henry Threadgills and Tim Bernes of the world. There's also an unpredictability to the music that's refreshing. Rather than framing a round robin of soloing with a thematic statement, Gossage and company pursue a path that's admittedly more idiosyncratic yet still feels organic in its developmental unfolding. His outfit boldly carries on as if the neo-conservative wave never happened, and long may it continue to do so.

December 2011