The Avant Guardian

He doesn’t look scary. But look again: Jeff Gauthier (“goaty-AY”) is a Secret Agent for Musical Revolution. Watch him, stroking his violin with his band Goatette or a dozen other post-jazz groups, eyes closed as if he’s dreaming of celestial pastures. All the while, the war against mediocrity and megapop boredom rages on, and he’s actually winning some battles.

As a member of the key local chamber-jazz group Quartet Music in the ’80s, as well as a classical player and an in-demand improviser for some three decades, Gauthier has seen the dirt that gets done to musicians who try something different. So when fellow Quartet member Eric von Essen died an unknown genius in 1997, Gauthier decided to do something about it by dirtying his own hands in the grubby recording business. His tool was Cryptogramophone Records, which he launched in 1998 to expose von Essen’s compositions, then expanded to showcase the best of West Coast avanteers (Don Preston, Nels Cline, Alex Cline, G.E. Stinson, Scott Amendola, Ben Goldberg, Jeanette Wrate, Mark Dresser, Bennie Maupin) and select Easterners (Erik Friedlander, Gregg Bendian). Behold: For the uncompromised quality of the music, the excellence of the sound and the beauty of the packaging, he’s gathered substantial respect worldwide.

Yet something still bothered Gauthier: These warriors needed a live arena where they could stretch their muscles. He discovered an unlikely ally in Carlos Rodriguez, proprietor of a little Salvadoran restaurant called Club Tropical in Culver City. “Without his support for music that was completely new to him three years ago,” says Gauthier, “the Cryptonight series would not have been possible.” Each Thursday since 2003 (and recently with a world-music night on Fridays), Cryptonight, co-booked by David Witham, hosts the best of the locals plus visitors from as far away as New York (Ned Rothenberg), Holland (Han Bennink) and Japan (the bicontinental Carl Stone).

The Tropical now fills up most every Thursday. Two reasons: 1) Comfortable sit-down atmosphere, good food, full bar. 2) You don’t have to look at the calendar; you can go any week and be dead certain you’ll experience the most mind-stretching, most proficient and plain old best improvisational music on the planet.

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