Since last year, New York tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci has been releasing duets between himself and various other experimental musicians recorded at Scholes Street Studio. Aptly titled “Pandemic Duets”, this series now consists of 12 album-length offerings, with more hopefully to come. Like so many musicians, Gauci has chosen to create rather than let COVID diminish his efforts. Two of the latest duets are reviewed below.
Wendy Eisenberg / Stephen Gauci, Pandemic Duets (2021)
Wendy Eisenberg is an unabashedly outside guitarist, giving a nod to Derek Bailey but moving in their own direction. Eisenberg’s spiky runs, discordant wails, and cleanly-picked jumbles of notes exemplify the chaos that was most of 2020 and so far 2021 as well. Gauci wails in unison with her, expressing what many of us have felt for the last year. But when Eisenberg turns on the distortion, the impact is even more jarring as it expands her palette of extended techniques. Both musicians move deftly between melodic passages and more disjointed and unstructured excursions. They seem to have the same ability to juxtapose confluence and disruption in equal measures. The result is a busy recording that is raw and refreshingly full of ideas across its 14 short tracks.
Vijay Anderson / Stephen Gauci, Pandemic Duets (2021)
In contrast to Eisenberg, Bay Area drummer Vijay Anderson stays closer to the jazz tradition while remaining edgy. It is a tricky balance that he has been pulling off for years, and this recording is no exception. Gauci provides thick, aggressive lines taking on the bulk of the leads, while Anderson’s very active playing is heavy on the toms and cymbals. The effect is not a groove, nor is it martial. Instead, Anderson and Gauci are both organic in their own individual ways. They move between aggressive and more restrained patterns but spend more time in the former. While I couldn’t call this set of duets “free jazz” per se, it will appeal to fans of that sort of music, as well as those who are looking to expand their horizons.