Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Nels Cline 4's "Currents, Constellations"

Besides holding down the lead guitar chair in Wilco (with whom his "Impossible Germany" solo surely ranks among the great rock rides -- sort of a "Marquee Moon"-meets-"Hotel California"), Nels Cline continues to refine the art of jazz guitar. Since teaming up in a duo with classically-trained former child prodigy Julian Lage for 2014's Room (and a 2015 performance at the Kessler Theatre in Oak Cliff that showcased some of the most intense musical communication I have ever witnessed), he's released an album with jazz-funk trio Medeski, Martin, and Wood, as well as the beautifully orchestrated, David Breskin-produced "mood music" project Lovers.

Now, he and Lage are joined by bassist Scott Colley (who's played with an impressive array of artists that includes Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock, and Andrew Hill) and drummer Tom Rainey (a former Tim Berne sideman whom I first heard on Ash and Tabula, an improv date with Cline and Andrea Parkins, and his own Pool School, with Mary Halvorson and his wife, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock). Together, they make a music that veers from jarring dissonance to ruminative lyricism but is always interactive and exploratory.

Together, Cline and Lage are really something special: Imagine two incredibly facile and expressive guitarists, who can mind-meld instead of competing for space. Whether playing "sovereign" solos with support, unisons, or moving dyads, the whole always exceeds the sum of parts, and the rhythm section just allows them to up the ante. The intensity stays high on the freeblow explosion of "Furtive," driven by Rainey's loose-limbed clatter; "Swing Ghost '59," in which Cline seeks to both amuse himself and make a comment on the dearth of swing in modern music by juxtaposing sections of swung and even eighth notes; the crushing groove tune "Imperfect 10;" and "Amenette," a reprise of a tune from Room, the title of which tips its hat to both Scott Amendola (drummer in the all-instrumental Nels Cline Singers) and Ornette Coleman.

The ghosts of Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, and Ralph Towner haunt the ballad "As Close As That," the "chamber jazz" of "Temporarily" (composed by Carla Bley for the Jimmy Giuffre 3, which included Hall), the pastoral "River Mouth" (possibly my favorite piece here, the second part of which is strongly evocative of Towner's work with the band Oregon), and the closing valediction "For Each, A Flower." It'll no doubt be exciting to see the way this material grows in live performance. Sadly, the Nels Cline 4's tour (which opens tonight in Oslo) has no North American stops. Next year, perhaps, Mr. Cline? At the Kessler, maybe?


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