Nels Cline Singers Instrumentals Review

Album. Released 2002.  

BBC Review

Every track on this CD is a winner...

Bill Tilland 2002

This inscrutably titled disk features guitarist Cline's new power trio, with Devin Hoff on contrabass and Scott Amendola on drums and percussion (as well as loops, live effects and processing). There are no singers, and no vocals.

Other guitarists on the scene might trump Cline with a single defining attribute - funkier, flashier, more lyrical, whatever. But I can't think of anyone right now who covers more musical ground than Cline, or who covers it half as well. You can hear everyone from Jim Hall to Sonny Sharrock here, depending upon the tune or the passage. In fact, Cline showcases so many different moods and styles that the initial effect can be a little disorienting. You have him pegged as one thing, and then he comes at you from a new direction.

However, Cline is not just a musical chameleon. He always surrounds himself with strong players, and gives them ample opportunity to display their skills. This trio is fully interactive (no mere time-keepers here), and the two other members maintain a running dialogue with Cline, echoing, reinforcing and commenting on his lines. Hoff, in particular, often figures prominently on bowed bass. The solid group dynamic gives the music a continuity and cohesion beneath all the surface variation.

On Instrumentals, Cline himself often favours a thick, somewhat overdriven sound, tending toward dirty or even positively filthy (as on "Lowered Boom," a truly hardcore electric blues). The opening track, "A Mug like Mine," teases a simple melody line almost to the point of obsession, in much the same way that John Coltrane played with all the possibilities of a simple riff or phrase in his later work. (On Cline's remake of Coltrane's Interstellar Space with drummer Gregg Bendian, he proved himself to be a superb Coltrane interpreter.)

Cline also understands the visceral impact of a good strum, and has added some thrash elements to his musical vocabulary. (The relentless "Cause for Concern" sounds like a synthesis of Sonic Youth and the Mahavishnu Orchestra). That having been said, Cline is hardly predictable, and he can certainly play pretty for the people when he has a mind to. "Lucia," which follows the greasy "Lowered Boom," is so spare and understated as to be well nigh invisible at first, and has a wistful minimalism very reminiscent of Jim Hall. The CD's closing number, "Slipped Away," is reverbed and ruminative, bringing to mind the work of Ry Cooder and Bill Frisell. And while "Ghost of the Piñata," is uptempo, Cline's twelve-string chimes and rings with crystalline clarity.

Every track on this CD is a winner, and with a recording as fine as this one, Cline is identifying himself as a major force in the world of electric guitar.

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you choose to use this review on your site please link back to this page.