Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Things we like: Nels Cline, David Breskin, Allen Lowe

I'll admit I was a little worried when, prior to the release of Nels Cline's new album Lovers, all of the fun, idiosyncratic writing disappeared from his website, which had become a promo piece for the album. I'd heard that Lovers was a tribute to mood music, and couldn't help flashing back to around '76, when I heard Larry Coryell refer to producer Creed Taylor in an interview as "the man who destroyed Wes Montgomery." Nels has been my favorite axe-slinger since 2009's overdubbed solo Coward, and the thought of his sound smothered in cloying strings in the manner of Wes' Taylor-made outings for A&M and CTI was almost too much to bear.

But I needn't have worried, as Nels' album was produced by David Breskin, whom I'd met at Ronald Shannon Jackson's memorial service here in Fort Worth and came away with the impression that he was a decent man. With Rafi Zabor, Breskin co-authored the Musician piece that clued me in to Shannon back in '81 (although I'd been digging him since Ornette's Dancing In Your Head in '76). Breskin went on to produce the albums Mandance and Barbecue Dog for Shannon, as well as the 1987 Power Tools album that teamed Shannon and bassist Melvin Gibbs with guitarist Bill Frisell. Breskin's worked with Nels since 2010's Initiate. He also produced the recently released Duopoly for the estimable pianist Kris Davis.

The tunes on Lovers include covers of Sonic Youth, Annette Peacock, Gabor Szabo, and Jimmy Guiffre as well as Broadway standards and a previously unrecorded piece from Henry Mancini's score to Breakfast At Tiffany's. Michael Leonhart's orchestrations fit seamlessly into Nels' conception, which has always possessed a dark, ruminative lyricism that marks him as a musical descendant of Jim Hall (to whom "Secret Love" here is dedicated) in the same way as Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie are. My favorite moments here come on the second disc: the soupcon of gypsy swing on "Why Was I Born?" and the closing original theme, "The Bond," which was also a highlight of Nels' duet album with Julian Lage, Room, and the live set I saw the duo perform last year.

Nels' other, face-melting side is in ample evidence on the prolific altoist-composer Allen Lowe's Hell With an Ocean View: Down and Out DownEast, in harness with the equally adept axe-slinger Ray Suhy, whose expressive palette ranges from bebop to metal but is always intense; the titanic pianist Matthew Shipp; and a newcomer to watch, Larry Feldman on amplified violin and mandolin. The album's an engaging romp, sort of a '50s-style blowing session with more modern material. The charts, all by Lowe, include a couple that sound like Monk refracted through the prism of Andrew Hill, some blues with lots of room for all the soloists to make forceful statements at length, and a Hendrix portrait that sounds more like a Miles ca. Jack Johnson portrait (with Suhy flowing molten rock in the manner of John McLaughlin when he was still playing the flattop with the DeArmond, while Nels gets all warm and Cosey). The leader also does some of his fieriest blowing I've heard. There's an irascible rasp to his tone that echoes his persona.

2 Comments:

Blogger TeacherHulk said...

How am I going to review it after you did THAT???? ;) Those reference check-offs make me wish I had it in the office right now.

10:17 AM  
Blogger David Breskin said...

Dear Ken: Never in my life (after that set-up) have I been so relieved to be called simply slash merely "a decent man." send a shout to david@breskin.net and i will set you up with DIRTY BABY, which happened before "Initiate"....cheers, db

10:26 AM  

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