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