There's something funny about the fact that our
local heroes the identical twin Cline Brothers 行 Nels (Wilco/Geraldine
Fibbers/Scarnella/Nels Cline Singers guitarist) and Alex (Alex Cline
Ensemble/Julius Hemphill/Arthur Blythe drummer) 行 reside arguably as the
reigning kings of their respective instruments, and without a doubt two of
the most important composers in the jazz/rock/contempo/non-genre spheres of
here or anywhere one might be looking.
The brothers have recently
issued solo albums, both on the high-class Cryptogramphone label run by
fellow prog-jazz/other stalwart Jeff Gauthier. Alex's Continuation reflects, as he describes it the liner notes, a continuation
or bridge-building between himself and his teachers, friends and family.
Over seven extended tracks, he establishes what has to be termed a new kind
of jazz, though especially for such a spiritually centered persona such as
Alex Cline, such a term would feel rather non-holistic, or limiting.
His small ensemble of
Gauthier on violin; Myra Melford on spare piano ornaments; elegiac and
growling cello by Peggy Lee, and bass sympathies from Scott Walton brings a
filigreed grace to tracks such as " "Nourishing Our Roots,"
whose gong-garden intro invites us into its resonant space. The
"minimalism" from all, including the somewhat dolorous theme
layed out by Gauthier and Lee's sawing strings, grows slowly together,
accrues a spiderwebbed then filmy density; each part 行 ivory piano
droplets, skittish cymbal strokes 行 falls like the rain, like dew dripping
These pieces range up to
18-plus minutes in length, and unfold amid clopping blocks and vibing
bells, things that jangle and rattle; they open up as if allowed to reveal themselves. While that would be an
obvious goal of any serious composer, what's intriguing in this music is
what is being revealed: one might feel a chill, almost but not quite scary.
In the noirish "Clearing Our Streams," awash in harmonium and
building to great unison melodic lines of vaguely Middle Eastern modality,
it is as if behind the music, silence lurks... and silence, of course, is
These tracks trace a space
where one can be, or is, thus urging a spiritual aspect to the proceedings.
A lot of things happen 行 string harmonics, percussive events, piano mist 行
but you must wait, patiently or impatiently. There is a miraculously
nuanced, intelligent way in which these players' understanding comes through,
never a hint of literalness about what settings or emotions might be
evoked. And a piece such as "Fade to Green," like the others, can
suggest real turmoil 行 conflicting emotions, at least. This has everything
to do with Alex's view of the yin and the yang, I think, or of the reality
of having to continually make adjustments. His music's real-life analogy is
real life, and his drumming 行 simply immense in both agility and
implication 行 is a force of nature.
Similarly establishing new symmetries in unpredictable
ways, brother Nels drops the mystifyingly titled Coward, single-handedly redefining most anything to do
with music. A one-man maelstrom of acoustic/electric 6- & 12-string
guitars, plus autoharps, a small mountain of effects and not least the Quintronics
Drum Buddy electronic device, Nels lures us through 15 pieces of instant
composition that lay bare frighteningly vast stores of untapped musical
lava flowing within his famously fertile imagination.
Seriously, Nels' contribution
to the arts of guitar playing and extended composition, among other things,
are especially significant on this disc. Smaller pieces such as
"Epiphyllum" are calming drone-loops on "sruti boxes"
and guitars that expose tiny abstract events; "Prayer Wheel"'s
lovely acoustic and electric steel guitars give a pink/orange sunset air
and hypnotic ostinato-ing that is an object lesson in how to be pretty
without drowning in saccarhine. Oddly (SY-like) counterpointed, the
slide-acoustic "Thurston County" is filled with flies in the
sonic ointment and feels impulsive, shapewise, alternatively meandering and
to the point. When Nels starts to strum in a "pop" sort of way 行
and why not? 行 he's stumbling upon chords and changes that will evoke for
years; "The Androgyne" and the six-part "ONAN" suite
both pull apart splayed, spiky chords and pointillist sounds 行 deliberately
alien landscapes, and fascinating exercises in harmonic juxtaposition.
evoked in such pieces are knotty, nowhere more so than in the lengthy
"Rod Poole's Gradual Ascent to Heaven," for the murdered
microtonal guitarist, which explores "off" intonations as if
revealing heartbreak in another room on another plane entirely. This and
"The Divine Homegirl" suggest that there is an accessible but
genuinely new melodic/harmonic sensibility possible.
Nels and Alex Cline's music
explodes in a sound world of astounding new colors. Interestingly, on
occasion its relation to music more conventionally beautiful or sentimental
peeks through the clouds. This can make for wickedly weird new feelings
that are strangely memorable.