The Inkling (may 1999 - Cryptogramophone, 2000), recorded by a quartet of Cline,
Zena Parkins (harp), Mark Dresser (bass) and Billy Mintz (drums), is a majestic
effort to bridge
jazz and rock in the age of post-rock.
Rather than the traditional "fusion"
sound, Cline aims for angular and fractured rock "songs".
Spider Wisdom is fueled by the galvanizing energy of rock music but
the lead instruments layer noise after noise on top of the swinging rhythm
Sunken Song is a chameleon that starts with
Caribbean syncopation, then delves into more traditional jazz interchange and
finally ventures into minimalist noisy repetitive patterns.
However, Cline's project truly blossoms when it straddles the border between
structure and free form.
In New Old Hat the neoclassical guitar and bass duet picks us life
towards the end, teased by a romantic cello and hissing cymbals.
The 13-minute Queen Of Angels is a model of improvised chaos, with the
instruments throwing preverbal sounds at each other in a dissolute manner.
The collaboration peaks with the 15-minute Alstromeria, an
extended piece that displays his "compositional" (or at least choreographic)
skills: a quiet abstract conversation, an
impressionist painting whose pixels have been scrambled, a fragile sonata in
which silence and pauses are part of the score.
The anemic nocturnal hallucination of Moth Song is its worthy corollary.
Cline's "ambient jamming" leads to the hypnotic void of closer
Lullaby For Ian.
The relatively pensive, relaxed, meditational tone on this album marked
a "growing up" of sort: the creative fury of his early albums was now channeled
through atmospheric, textural, psychological counterpoint.
Interstellar Space Revisited (february 1998 - Atavistic, 2001) is a tribute to
John Coltrane's masterpiece.
Open The Door (Public Eyesore) documents a 1999 collaboration between guitarists Nels Cline and Elliott Sharp (plus a live recording of 2007).
Destroy All Nels Cline (july 2000 - Atavistic, 2001), a project for
four guitarists and a rhythm section, was another sensational enterprise
that aimed at redefining
the meaning of jazz from a punk-rock perspective.
Cline is at the peak of both his imagination and his technique,
indulging in the extreme chaos and noise of Spider Wisdom,
crafting the terrifying atmosphere of After Armenia,
penning the evocative nine-minute meditation of The Ringing Hand,
and attaining the brief Buddhist-inspired ecstasy of Friends of Snowman.
The 14-minute As In Life, one of his masperpieces, undergoes a
number of transformations: hysterical chirping and tweeting,
minimalist crescendo with exotic drumming, and chaos.
The 12-minute psychedelic lattice of Martyr is pierced by a cosmic
The band steals the show in the
fiery jazz-rock convulsions of Chi Cacoan and of the
ten-minute Talk of Chocolate Bed.
Cline's project excels at "destroying" the composition, making music out of
the fragments. His guitar is not too original when it engages in epic solos,
but it is wildly original when it does the exact opposite: bury itself in
a dust of non-virtuoso sounds.
Nels Cline also leads L. Stinkbug, a band with guitarist
G.E. Stinson, bassist Stuart Liebig and drummer Scott Amendola.
The Allure Of Roadside Curios (Starlight Furniture Company, 2002)
collects four lengthy jams, as intense and mesmerizing as usual.
The focus is on the timbres of the instruments, that are bent and "prepared"
to generate the oddest pitches and lows.
The Instrumentals (august 2001 - Cryptogramophone, 2002), ironically credited to the
Nels Cline Singers
(bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola), run the gamut
from the 15-minute astral free-form jam Blood Drawing
that explodes in a dizzy gypsy dance of sorts,
to the subdued impressionistic 12-minute mural of Lucia,
from the savage and bluesy Hendrix-ian rave-up Lowered Boom
to the acrobatic counterpoint drenched in suspenseful atmosphere of
the nine-minute A Mug Like Mine,
from the brief cubistic rock'n'roll Cause for Concern
to the minimalist crescendo of Suspended Head,
from the languid and dissonant chamber music of Harbor Child
to the lively deconstruction of country-rock of Ghost of the Pinata.
The Acoustic Guitar Trio (september 2000 - Incus, 2002) is Cline,
Rod Poole and Jim McAuley, which is just that: an acoustic guitar trio.
Buried On Bunker Hill (recorded in 2003 - Ground Fault, 2004), a collaboration with
bassist Devin "Crib" Sarno, is droning ambient music.
The Giant Pin (august 2003 - Cryptogramophone, 2004)
was again credited to the
Nels Cline Singers,
although it sounded less ambitious than their first disc.
This time around most of the pieces are rooted in the jazz tradition, and serve
mainly to display the instrumental prowess of the trio
(notably the delirious guitar workout of Fly Fly).
It includes the moving ten-minute Something About David H,
a laid-back shuffle with a soaring melodic coda,
and the delicate eleven-minute fantasia Bright Moon.
The abstract creativity of Instrumentals surfaces again in the noisy
middle of He Still Carries A Torch For Her,
in the psychedelic cacophony of Boy Needs A Door (one of his boldest
and in the abstract nine-minute poem Spell, a tour de force of
The Entire Time (february 2003) was a collaboration with Vinny Golia.
Immolation/Immersion (april 2005 - Strange Attractors, 2005) is a collaboration with
saxophonist Wally Shoup and percussionist Chris Corsano.
highlighted by the 28-minute high-energy jam Immolation Immersion.
New Monastery (Cryptogramophone, 2006) was a tribute to the music of
Andrew Hill, although it sounded more like a very personal reconstruction of it.
The Nels Cline Singers remained Cline's main project, crafting
another all-instrumental gem,
Draw Breath (february 2007 - Cryptogramophone, 2007), a multi-stylistic tour de force.
The overture is the haunting funereal ambient vignette
Caved-In Heart Blues.
After the more conventional (and way more lively) jazz jam of Attempted
and the virulent jazz-rock of Confection,
the 16-minute An Evening At Pops and the eight-minute
Squirrel Of God
returned Cline to his trademark abstract noisescapes, the former
undulating between ambient pointillism and heavy-metal overtones,
the latter indulging in a free-form stream of glissandoes and assorted
instrumental noises before unleashing a tender melodic theme.
The 15-minute Mixed Message was the rocking epicenter of the album,
started by guitar frenzy over fast swinging beat and ended
by repetitive hard-rock riffs over pounding drums.
The album includes some surprising detours into new styles:
The Angel Of Angels is almost new-age music for him, replete with
a spiritual melody and steady rhythm,
and Recognize I is a folk lullaby by his standards.
Duo Milano (april 2006) documents guitar duets between Nels Cline and Elliot Sharp.
Downpour (Victo, 2007) documents a live jam with accordionist
Andrea Parkins and drummer Tom Rainey.
Distressed (Temporary Residence, 2006) documents a session between drummer Zach Hill (Hella) and guitarist Nels Cline (Geraldine Fibbers) under the moniker Damsells.
Coward (april 2008 - Cryptogramophone, 2009) was
both a living catalog of guitar techniques and
a kaleidoscope of transfigured genres:
droning ambient music (Epiphyllum ),
dreamy folk fantasias a` la John Fahey (Prayer Wheel),
hypnotic exotic music (Thurston Country),
flamenco (X Change(s)),
country music (The Nomad's Home).
The 19-minute Rod Poole's Gradual Ascent To Heaven was a simple
stream of consciousness for country and folk fingerpicking.
He basically made a point of staying away from rock and jazz.
This was Cline's attempt at austere pan-ethnic chamber music.
The only piece here to offer his hallucinatory noisescapes is
the six-movement 18-minute chaos-rock suite Onan, where Cline runs the
gamut from horror drones to chaotic chirping, from demented distortion to
Elevating Device (2009) is a collaboration with
ex-Shadowfax's G.E. Stinson, containing just one 44-minute piece.
The Nels Cline Singers
added David Witham on electric piano and organ, Cibo Matto's Yuka
Honda on synthesizer, and percussionists Greg Saunier, Satomi
Matsuzaki, John Dieterich.
double-disc Initiate, comprising a
studio session (march 2009) and a live session that is mostly devoted to modern
classics (september 2009).
The new material is a mixed bag. The
astral soloing of Floored sounds like old-fashioned prog-rock of the Canterbury school.
Divining smacks of mellow lounge jazz-rock.
Cline mostly impersonates the atmospheric guitarist that was popular in the
1960s, notably in the hypercharged dub dance of King Queen, highlighted
by an almost Doors-ian organ solo.
Even the best intentioned pieces don't seem to know how to end.
The nine-minute Red Line To Greenland takes off from its synth and guitar noisescape to unleash an anthemic slab of space-rock.
Grow Closer is a fluid quasi-raga guitar meditation over voodoo rhythm
that, after a hymn-like bass solo, intones a trivial new-age refrain.
Mercy Procession takes forever to raise from the ashes and then simply
keeps growing and growing without a clear destination.
The most daring ideas, like the dissonant orgy of Scissor/Saw, are
The live album includes the gloomy dissonant chamber music of
Forge, the swinging Fly Fly that is merely a pretext for a
gargantuan display of guitar prowess,
the hard-rocking Raze
a rendition of
Carla Bley's And Now The Queen,
the whirling Middle-eastern crescendo of Blues Too,
a nine-minute version of Thurston County
the rather conventional jazz-rock of Sunken Song
and an Hendrix-ian cover of
Joe Zawinul's Boogie Woogie Waltz.
The live album does not amount to much, and the studio album is only
intermittently worthy of Cline's fame.
Floored By Four (july 2009) was performed by a quartet with Yuka Honda (keyboards and vibes), Mike Watt (the cofounder of Minutemen and fIREHOSE, who wrote all tracks) and drummer Dougie Bowne (who worked with John Cale, Iggy Pop and Lounge Lizards).
Celestial Septet (november 2008) was a collaboration with the
Rova Saxophone Quartet.
Cesar Chavez, credited to The Singers' drummer Scott Amendola, sounds
like a mournful requiem, but the instrumentalists are bit too restrained.
Adams' Trouble Ticket is, instead, a bit too extroverted, with
Anthony Braxton-ian minimalist repetitions
and excited horn counterpoint that is not fully justified by the non-existent
theme. When Cline's guitar enters the stage, the piece flames up, but it's
too little too late.
Cline's 16-minute The Buried Quilt transitions from a somber symphonic cluter to a frenzied free jam that finally highlights the septet's interplay.
Ochs' 25-minute labyrinthine Whose to Know opens in a
romantic nocturnal atmosphere until a Cline solo injects a
dose of playful exuberance that bounces from one instrument to the other
yielding a demented merry-go-round of melodies.
When the excitement subsides, the contrabass leads a plaintive meditation
that the other instruments join at times, although none manages to restore
before the final collective eruption of joy.
The double-disc Dirty Baby (january 2008) collects music that Cline
composed as soundtrack to an art exhibition.
The six-movement Silhouettes
begins with a brief harmonica-led overture that sounds like a slightly detuned
Morricone spaghetti-western soundtrack.
The second movement is even more cinematic in nature, with the guitar weaving
an evocative melody around the plaintive harmonica. The arrangement for both
is sort of new-age music. The third movement, however, opens with ghostly
guitar dissonances and sounds of nature, continues on a collision path with a
dumb cello and Jon Brion's synthesizer, plunges into chaotic collective
cacophony and ends in a coda of glissandoes.
The fourth movement, instead, is a gentle watercolor for acoustic guitar,
again closer to new-age music than jazz.
The eleven-minute fifth movement is a more regular jam that blends
intricate swinging rhythm, jazzy guitar licks,
petulant synth noise and
distorted soul organ lines.
The twelve-minute sixth movement is an oppressive industrial metronome scarred by astral guitar effects, slowly coalescing into a disciplined minimalist concerto.
There is nothing revolutionary here. Cline is enjoying himself in the company
of good friends, who trust his mischieving imagination perhaps too much.
The 33 Cityscapes are miniatures for a much larger ensemble (winds, reeds, strings, guitars, percussion, vibraphone, xylophone), ranging from the
street fanfare of I'll Be Getting Out Soon And I Haven't Forgotten Your Testimony Put Me to the string adagio of You Dirty Rotten Bitch,
from the requiem-like orchestral lament of In God We Trust
to the dissonant chamber music of Give Up The Gold Or Give Up Your Life.
Like with all fragmented music, this 33-piece suite fails to sustain
interest. Not only the pieces are very short, but they often mutate
radically during their brief existence.
Very few of these pieces can be called "accomplished":
You Talk You Get Killed, that couples a
noir blues groove and post-bop trumpet,
loose subdued jamming of I Thought I Told You That Wewon't Stop.
Too many tracks sound chaotic for the sake of being chaotic, or, better,
for lack of ideas.
It sounds like a colossal waste of talents.
Tim Berne, Jim Black and Nels Cline improvised The Veil (july 2009).
The general feeling was that Nels Cline was releasing too much music, and
its quality was beginning to be inversely proportional to its quantity.
The trio of Thollem McDonas (piano), William
Parker (acoustic bass) and Nels Cline (electric guitar) recorded
The Gowanus Session (january 2012), including
the 16-minute Lives.
Unfold Ordinary Mind (april 2012)
features the quintet of Ben Goldberg (clarinets), Nels Cline (guitar),
Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth (both on tenor sax) and Ches Smith
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