Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nels Cline and Julian Lage @ The Kessler, 10.29.2015

Nels Cline might be my favorite guitarist working today, so when the opportunity arises to see him in my favorite listening room, I'm right there. Besides the fact that the sound and sightlines at The Kessler are superior to every other Metromess venue with which I'm personally familiar, it's also smoke-free (which I now see as an advantage), without the parking hassles that usually come with attending a show in Big D.

Most of Nels' recordings I've heard have him in electric band contexts (although I'm a big fan of his multi-overdubbed solo outing, Coward), but this particular evening found him in the company of 26-year-old wunderkind Julian Lage. I was pleasantly surprised to see a sizable crowd on hand (200, by artistic director Jeff Liles' count), and technical director Paul Quigg gave us a quick rundown on soundcheck ("a modal exploration, some bebop, and a little Django"). Their incandescent duet album Room was recorded in 2013 and came out late last year, but we were fortunate to be catching them at the end of a swing through the Northeast and Texas, when ten nights of playing together had added heat as well as illumination to their dialogue.

Thus, they started their set as though continuing a conversation interrupted just moments before, shadowing each other telepathically, Nels playing with his head down, chopping away with that aggressive right hand, while Julian watched him intently throughout the performance, almost dancing on the guitar with a lighter, more fluid movement. The tones they got from their tee-tiny ZT amps were warm and full. Although Julian plays with a flatpick, his classical training is evident in his left-hand dexterity, while Nels' jazz background shows up in the kinds of chord inversions he likes to play. It was interesting to observe their contrasting approaches when they'd play unison and counterpoint, or trade off repeating parts and solos. Much of the material they played is composed, but both men approached the music with great freedom and spontaneity. Nels seemed to delight as much in backing the younger musician as he did in soloing, playing rolling arpeggios behind Julian's darting lines. It was musical communication at its best.

Luckily, Liles shot video:


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