Mack Avenue Records
You know Nels Cline as the guy who lights a fire up under Wilco now – has done for a while, is part of the reinvention and evolution of that band, but also continues to work as solo artist and collaborator outside and away from the group. He has worked across jazz and punk – often combining elements of the two, his guitar histrionics a blur of jazz music’s discipline and feel with the spirit and energy and experimentalism of punk and rock music as well as the free-jazz and improvisation and alternative musics.
Cline’s always tunnelling into and then away from jazz and with his ongoing project the Nels Cline Singers he’s rewarded as he digs, unearthing where Bill Frisell has also been (The Wedding Band) and imagining, perhaps, how Pat Martino and Lyle Workman might sound in harmony (Canales’ Cabeza).
Helping him to wreck and then reassemble is the wonderful Scott Amendola (TJ Kirk, Charlie Hunter) who has a particular skill in supporting fretboard wizards, punctuating perfectly, sometimes finishing their sentences, always adding colour. And Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle/Tomahawk) provides his dextrous magic (Seven Zed Heaven).
There’s so much to listen out for here – so much in fact that when you hear a quiet, sincere ballad, like Red Before Orange, you know to keep listening, even if you hear in it something approaching a Ronny Jordan safeness or the languid, lope of Stanley Clarke’s later work. For somewhere in there, just as in the way Cline can turn a pedestrian Wilco tune into a running, leaping triumph, you’ll hear those trills, those shapes, he’ll cut an angle you just wouldn’t ever quite expect and even if he doesn’t send the tune hurtling off into a new space he provides a warmth and depth, he shapes just rightly, sympathetically but stunningly so as to keep you hanging on.
The closing Sascha’s Book of Frogs, has the band all-in, knitting and needling away, showing chops yes, but creating the sort of chaos that might have you guessing too that they’re discovering their instruments for the first time. It’s that sort of magic.
I’ve enjoyed all the Cline Singers records – but this one is the best.