Cline 4

Nels Cline 4Currents, Constellations (Blue Note, 2018)

NelsCline4_CurrentsConstellations_cover-1520399761-640x640Guitarist Nels Cline has an earlier Blue Note release, Lovers, but Currents, Constellations feels like his first “official” Blue Note record. Maybe it’s because Lovers was such a specific project — mostly covers, many from the outer radii of jazz (Annette Peacock, Jimmy Giuffre) and at least one from another orbit entirely (Sonic Youth). Maybe it’s just the album artwork, which reminds me of Bobby Hutcherson’s final album, Enjoy the View.

Or maybe it’s because this is a working band, a quartet performing Cline originals. It’s also got a jazz feel — which has always been part of Cline’s playbook but usually gets alternated with other musical influences, as on the Nels Cline Singers albums.

That’s not to say Cline has gone traditional. His jazz comes with a spiky touch — glittering gems with pointy edges. Take “Imperfect 10,” the preview single that was available a few weeks ago. It’s relatable despite the time signature, and you can tell they had fun playing it — a good track to make a video out of.

The quartet pairs Cline with guitarist Julian Lage and a sharp rhythm section of Scott Colley (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). The music includes nice flurries of adept guitar fretwork, but it isn’t a “guitar hero” album. Everything is done in service to the overall mood, which is often swingy and driven.

“Furtive” opens the album with a sprint, a rapid-fire Colley background as Rainey sets a snappy mood and both guitarists dive quickly into improvising mode. “Amenette” opens with a burst of ’60s-style progressive jazz that leads into some cool-handed soloing with a wide-open feel but still one foot in the jazz realm.

“Swing Ghost ’59” touches on western-style swing, a nod even further back than you’d expect but an understandable move given Cline’s broad palette. It breaks down into a darting group improv — so, the song starts with one of the album’s most “inside” moods and hits on its most “outside” moments.

“As Close As That” is a slow one, not quite a ballad. Its creeping 6/8 melody sprinkles moments of darkness but leads to a charming ascending-chord sequence. “River Mouth” starts out placid and pleasing, then leads into a springy and airy mood. For the jazz fan that has trouble with Cline’s pointy edges, this track would be a good place to start.

Sharp, Halvorson, Ribot, Cline

Elliott Sharp with Mary Halvorson & Marc Ribot — Err Guitar (Intakt, 2017)

Nels Cline, Elliott SharpOpen the Door (Public Eyesore, 2012)

errguitarIt’s like a jungle of steel strings hanging like vines, and in certain segments, you can hear trademark moments Elliott Sharp‘s knotty, clustered guitar style; Mary Halvorson‘s spidery angles and abrupt, dark bursts; and Marc Ribot‘s soaring, edgy guitar heroism.

Put them together in a largely improvised set populated mostly with acoustic guitars, and you get that jungle effect. The overall mood is dark and twisted, but the titles of the songs (and of the album itself) tell you this is a jovial meeting. Sharp and Ribot have collaborated for decades, dating back to the ’80s downtown scene, and while Halvorson is younger, she’s been established as their peer in out-jazz circles.

Sadly, their schedules didn’t allow for a full-on trio recording. As Sharp explains in the liner notes, Err Guitar consists mostly of duets.

Two tracks were planned as overdubbed trios. “Blindspot” features all three playing in a spacious, sparkling mode; it’s a Sharp-Ribot duo with conscious space left for Halvorson. The other full-trio track is “Kernel Panic,” which carries a narrative flow built around Sharp’s graphical score. The track gathers like dark clouds, creating hailstorms at times when two or three of the players decide to cut loose.

These are dark landscapes. “Sinistre” casts an evil shadow, with dark-skies electric defining the mood for two scrabbling acoustic guitars. “Oronym” opens with a tangle of acoustic strings speaking in tongues and builds into an electric screech almost on the verge of a drone.

Two tracks not to miss: “Wobbly” is an acoustic duo with Ribot, with playful steel sparks flying everywhere. “Shredding Light,” with Halvorson, culminates in heavenly beams that do make it seem as if they’re playing the light itself.

cline-sharpSpeaking of guitar collaborations …

Open the Door is a lost album from 1999, when Sharp brought a young Nels Cline into Studio zOaR on West 30th Street for a day of acoustic improvising. The two guitarists laid down tracks direct-to-tape, only to have two record labels go belly-up before releasing the music. Public Eyesore‘s Bryan Day is the one who finally gave the music a proper release. It includes a 2007 live track, recorded by Cline and Sharp at The Stone, possibly in support of another duo album, Duo Milano (Long Song, 2006).

The album strikes me as having more concentration on melody (albeit in sour, off-kilter tones) than Err Guitar. “Isotropes” includes a slide and some downright pretty arpeggio work to create a songlike atmosphere. “Five Tastes of Sour” is like a careful study in harmonies, with each guitarist spending time exploring chords and leaving them to linger; it’s a nine-minute improvisation in no particular hurry.

The 2007 track, “Pietraviva,” is like blues clipped up and played on fast-forward, with notes and ideas rebounding all over the room. It packs a punch, and it ends with both guitars in tight percussive mode, the kind of clackety sound that’s been a Sharp trademark. These two had a lot of fun, both in 1999 and in 2007.


Duende Hosts Nels Cline

Source: Duende Oakland. Click to go there.Some time ago, I expressed skepticism about the “jazz” aspect of a new restaurant that was coming to Oakland. Boy, was I wrong.

Duende (468 19th St., Oakland) is giving the Nels Cline Singers a four-night residency starting January 23. Separately, co-owner Paul Canales has a blog entry where he mentions John Zorn as not only a friend but a source of inspiration for the restaurant — for the name, in particular.

I don’t expect Duende to become a full-time, all-out haven for the avant-garde. They’ve got rent to pay, and they’ve got ambitions as a restaurant.  But it’s good to know the owners have sympathetic ears for good music. And the food and coffee — there’s a blog entry about the coffee! — sound intriguing too, albeit not cheap.

nelsclinesingers-shirtI love going to DIY music events in obscure corners. I fondly remember a trip to NYC where I stared in envy at show fliers for loft shows and experienced an invigorating Elliott Sharp concert in an upper-east-side apartment converted to a dance studio. But I think a plush setting is a nice treat occasionally, and I’d imagine many musicians agree.

So, let’s wish best of luck to Duende, and help them out by providing a good showing for Nels Cline.

Each show, Jan. 23 through 26, will feature one set of the Nels Cline Singers and a set of Nels plus a guest artist. More info here.

Addendum:  As I reach for the “Publish” button, I see that Patrick Cress’ Telepathy will playing on Jan. 22. More about them here and here.

Ben Goldberg Goes Low: Update

I’m double-posting this, just because the original post is so far down the queue by now…

Here’s a sample of Ben Goldberg’s new band, Unfold Ordinary Mind. It’s been on Soundcloud for a month, but I didn’t think to check; thanks to Ben for pointing it out.

The song is apparently called “xcpf.” It’s a nice tune, with Nels Cline in rhythm mode at first and in slinky layered effects mode later. In between, the two saxes and Nels’ guitar all criss-cross with simultaneous melodic soloing while Goldberg, as promised, holds down the bass.

[UPDATE 2/1/13: That track got removed, but here’s another one, called “Stemwinder,” more of a ballad.]

To learn about the band, and see that Soundcloud widget yet again, click here.

Jim Black’s Mystery Duo (NYC Part 2/4)

The Cornelia Street Cafe is on one of those impossibly small streets in Greenwich Village, and its downstairs music room is equally cramped: a little corridor with tables down the sides. I’ve been to a few places like this in New York. They manage to be small without being intimate.

Still, I won’t complain about a restaurant that regularly supports the creative arts. After years of eyeing the Cornelia Street calendar, I finally managed to get down there to see drummer Jim Black and his Mystery Duo.

The Mystery came from the shadowy nature of Black’s duo partner, an unnamed guitarist who, according to the promo material, played music ranging from– oh, heck, it basically described Nels Cline. Black didn’t really mean for this to be much of a mystery. They did play a completely improvised set, so I suppose there’s mystery in that.

The music was a lot like the Berne Black Cline trio, from their CD on Cryptogramophone, but with added touches: Black adding laptop effects, or Cline bringing out the acoustic guitar.  Cline went through a bag of electronics tricks, creating loops, reverb, echoes, and the occasional backwards playback at high speeds. The loops gave Black a chance to become the soloing instrument over a rhythmic bed, a nice reversal of roles.

Not that Black stuck to rhythms much; the whole point in an improvisational duo is to create a dialogue between soloist peers. I do love it when Black goes into a groove; he keeps it strong and pulsing, with accents that start out in the right place and quickly scatter around the beat. He had quite a few segments like that, but also long spells of creative mayhem.

Overall, it wasn’t your normal dinner jazz, but it also wasn’t as heavy as it could have been. The place was filled, and most people seemed to know what they were getting into.

It occurred to me — and I don’t know why I didn’t think in these terms before — that Black has carved out his own definition of jazz drumming. It’s certainly not the cymbal-tapping rhythm of bebop, and it’s more wide open than even the beat-shifting complexity of Max Roach. It’s more derived from rock drumming, with virtuosity and even some element of restraint. Having his own band has been an important part of that development, because it’s let him set the context for his own playing.

Black announced the end of the set by saying they’d play exactly the same music for the second set. Yeah, it was a joke, but it would be funny if they tried to pull it off.

I was tempted to stick around, but a long day at MOMA (saw “The Scream”!) and some wine with dinner a couple hours earlier were all catching up to me. I ceded my little table to one of the people who’d been SRO’ed in the back. I had a feeling the next day was going to be pretty long, and I was right.

Berne, Black, Cline: Dark, Dark, Dark

BB&C [Tim Berne, Jim Black & Nels Cline] — The Veil (Cryptogramophone, 2011)

In Cryptogramophone‘s characteristic attention to packaging, The Veil comes in a stiff cardboard gatefold colored in the grays and blacks of utter doom.

What makes me say “doom?” The beginning of the CD, actually, as the quick plunge into “Railroaded” tells you these guys are out for blood. They’re making a horror movie here: Tim Berne‘s sax squealing at helium density, Nels Cline shredding mercilessly, and Jim Black splattering the crowd with snare fills.

BB&C — previously called “The BBC” and “Sons of Champignon” — aims for the epic, performing long improvisations with a big sound. The Veil presents us with a 45-minute piece, split into seven uninterrupted tracks, followed by a 13-minute encore.

After that enjoyable jolt of an opening, the music does calm down and spread out. The second phase, “Impairment Posse,” gets Berne and Black into a more friendly, funky groove with Cline spewing electric sparks like an I-beam going through a supernatural woodchipper. “The Barbarella Syndrome” comes across like more of a Berne-led piece, albeit with heavier guitar. It’s got a quick-footed pace and taut, bouncy sax improvising, and Cline keeps the volume pedals and distortion down a bit for a cleaner, closer-to-jazz sound. It’s still quite aggressive; you can sense the beads of sweat on their foreheads.

A trademark Jim Black solo is always a treat, and we’re granted one on “The Dawn of the Lawn.” Cline adds some shimmering, slow guitar chords to create a proggy sheen — I feel like I’ve been comparing everything to prog lately, but Cline’s music makes the comparison apt, and there are moments on here that remind me of the electric/electronic landscapes Berne  helped weave with David Torn’s Prezens.

The encore piece, titled “Tiny Moment,” is the cooldown, with moments of creeping calm that twice build up to an icy intensity.

I think all three members would like to think of The Veil as a departure for them, individually. Maybe less so for Cline. But the familiar elements do poke through: Cline’s skywriting-sized electronic tapestries (and that merciless shredding, as on the closing minutes of “Rescue Her”); Black’s unbounded energy, driven beats, and subtle sleight of hand; and Berne’s talent for telling long, captivating tales, latching onto the occasional riff as a tool to build the atmosphere for the next improvisational chapter. You know the elements. You just haven’t heard them mixed like this.

The Veil gets officially released June 7, but an order placed to Berne’s Screwgun Records might bring one to your mailbox earlier than that.

ROVA/Nels Cline Webcast Tonight

The ROVA Saxophone Quartet and The Nels Cline Singers (combined to form The Celestial Septet) will perform tonight (Feb. 22) in Philadelphia, and you can watch it on a live, free webcast:  The concert starts at 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.

The concert and webcast are the product of Ars Nova Workshop, an impressive Philly organization that brings free jazz and creative music artists into town for concerts. The group plays host to Philly’s own musical community sometimes, but more often, they draw from the deep pool of NYC talent, probably taking advantage of being within driving distance. I’ve been to one of their shows — Tim Berne’s Bloodcount reunion at the International House in 2008 — and the operation is impressive in its organization and its ability to draw an audience.

I don’t believe that musicians benefit every time they give away their work for free. But here’s one instance where it probably doesn’t hurt. Fans in California certainly can’t attend the Philly show. And those in Philadelphia who are interested in the music have plenty of incentive to see it in person. Key to that second point is that the Ars Technica shows are hand-picked and infrequent — maybe a half-dozen shows per month — which keeps the series fresh in terms of novelty and quality. (But just in case fans don’t realize that, the webcast is being blocked in Philly.)

The value of a webcast is doubled in the case of The Celestial Septet, given that the band isn’t easy to convene; the five shows on this tour might be their last for a long while. That’s why Ars Technica is going through this effort, which sounds like a one-off project. I hope it goes well. Most of the groups in this genre are necessarily ephemeral, and some video documentation would go a long way. And it would help nurture fan bases in remote areas like mine, where it’s just too costly for east-coasters to tour.

My review of The Celestial Septet (the CD) is here.

There’s a similar philosophy — albeit an entirely different purpose and result — in the Telematics concerts that Mark Dresser has been participating in, where groups of musicians in different cities are linked together via Internet2, a high-speed Internet offshoot that links research sites. As Dresser mentions at the end of this All About Jazz essay, Telematics is not a substitute for live, in-person interaction. It’s a good alternative, though, given today’s economic realities. It’s a subject I’m hoping to investigate more in the coming weeks.

Tim Berne’s To-Do List

After a period of relative silence in terms of CD releases, Tim Berne is busting loose. From the e-mail newsletter for his Screwgun Records label, here’s what he says is on the way:

* Insomnia on the Clean Feed label (already out, but it’s a good place to start).

* Old and Unwise, on Clean Feed — duo with bassist Bruno Chevillon. Arriving in May.

* On ECM, a CD from his band Los Totopos, which includes Berne (sax), Oscar Noriega (other sax), Matt Mitchell (keyboards), and Ches Smith (drums). The band has been performing regularly for a couple of years now, it seems, and should be in top form for their upcoming Australian tour.  The Screwgun home page offers some sound clips and a taste of Totopos on video; I’ve embedded the same video below. UPDATE: I should add that the CD is unmixed and not likely to appear this year. That’s what Berne indicates in his e-mail; I’m adding this because I think some folks who’ve seen that e-mail are stumbling on this blog hoping for more info.

* Sons of Champignon, a band originally called The BBC, apparently has a CD arriving this year. It’s the trio of Berne (sax), Nels Cline (guitar), and Jim Black (drums). They, too, are findable on YouTube.

And now, Los Totopos:

Summing Up Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison3+3=7 (9 Winds, 1996)

Here’s a neat little promo video  for guitarist Joel Harrison, yet another former Bay Area musician now plying his trade in New York. As you’ll see, he’s worked in music that includes (relatively) straight jazz, through-composed chamber music, and “world” music — and he also works on mixing those elements, putting violins, Indian instruments, and jazz ensembles into a box together and shaking vigorously.

Harrison definitely sits on the jazz side of the jazz/improv continuum, but he succeeds at pushing jazz into new shapes. I got to hear some of his ideas — admittedly less chamber- or Indian-music oriented, back then — in live shows circa 1999.

One of the projects he’d worked on back then — a time period too old to for inclusion in that video — was 3+3=7, a band tilted towards the improv side of things. The idea was to pair three electric guitarists with three percussionists (almost always on drum kits and surrounded with other percussion). All these moving parts added to an “ephemeral 7th presence,” as Harrison puts it in the liner notes.

The album features northern and southern California versions of the band, with Nels Cline included on either side (he’s versatile not only in music, but in geography!). I got to see the northern version live, with Cline and John Schott on guitar, and drummers Scott Amendola and Garth Powell for sure. The third drummer was named Russ, I think, replacing Glen Cronkite, who appears on the CD. I remember Russ being really good, for what it’s worth.

(UPDATE: Russ Gold. I’m 90% sure that third drummer was Russ Gold.)

“Kali” is one track that particularly stuck with me, both live and on CD. It starts with drums in some polyrhythm I’m not good enough to decode, a perpetual motion machine rolling downhill. The guitars join with long, ecstatic bursts, slow and monumental. The guitars eventually take over with a tangled march rhythm, playing offset lines of the same melody taken from an east Asian flavor of psychedelia.

As far as the CD goes, I’m drawn towards the rougher-edged jangle of “Broderick Crawford’s Throat,” or the artsy industrial blueprint of “Cold Day in New York,” which includes lines of “America the Beautiful” followed by unison noodling licks and a general devolution in to chaos. “Ratrace” takes a choppy, no-wave hack at jazz but also dips into an afrofusion jam for a few moments.

On the more romantic side, “Skin Frontier” is outright pretty. So is “Lovingkindness,” but in a more expansive way, filling a rich seven minutes. Both bring the guitars to the spotlight, with the drummers keeping to a placid mood.

Listen for yourself: “Someday Earth (for Don Cherry)” is included in this 2003 WNYC show. It’s sort of the northern California band’s hit single, spinning a bluesy main theme over a tribal thumping, presaging the Native American influence that would be Harrison’s focus on the album Transcience (Spirit Nectar, 2001). (Hit singles can be 9-and-a-half minutes long, right?)

You can also hear a few track samples at Harrison’s website.

Now Batting for the Nels Cline Singers

Bassist Devin Hoff has left the Nels Cline Singers and will be replaced by Trevor Dunn, according to Cline’s latest email newsletter to fans.

(I feel like such the sportswriter here. It’s like the Giants signing Miguel Tejada, and then the Padres trading to get Bartlett from the Rays to fill the shortstop void. Totally the same thing, right? Right?)

Hoff moved to Chicago from the Bay Area and probably wants to concentrate on establishing himself there. He’s also been doing some projects of his own, including a solo metal-influenced album that I’d been meaning to mention here.

The more relevant news is that the ‘Singers will be playing California in February — specifically, at The Independent on Thurs., Feb. 3, and near Santa Cruz at Don Quixote’s on Fri., Feb. 4. They’ll be adding Yuka Honda on keyboards and sundry. For a glimpse of how that sounds, check out their Honda-infused appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk series, from September 2010. The band kind of tones down for the small setting; their performance has a spacey jam in the middle — slow, mind-expanding sounds — and ends with straight jazz guitar that gets bent up.