Called "The World's Most Dangerous Guitarist" by Jazz Times
and named one of twenty "Guitar Gods" by Rolling Stone
, Nels Cline's profile has expanded considerably since his collaborations with underground personalities like Thurston Moore and Mike Watt and recruitment by Wilco in 2004. Cline's roots in the West Coast jazz scene pre-date his newfound mainstream recognition however, dating back to the mid-1970s.
Initiate is the fourth release from The Nels Cline Singers, Cline's versatile ten-year old power trio with bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola
. A double disc set, it showcases two different sides of the Singers. The first disc is an expertly recorded studio session engineered by Ron Saint German (Bad Brains, Soundgarden), who captures every nuance in crystalline detail. The second disc contains the trio's first official live recording. A raw and unedited snapshot of the Singers in action at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco, it is the yang to the studio set's yin.
The Singers dabble in a wide assortment of genres on the studio session. The percolating percussion and acoustic strings of "Grow Closer" exude a vaguely Eastern-Latin vibe, while "King Queen" develops into a full-blown Carlos Santana
styled work-out, complete with searing organ from David Witham
. "Floored" is the disc's grooviest cut, a raucous journey into wah-wah infused Milesian funkan aesthetic balanced by serene ballads like "You Noticed" and "Mercy (Supplication)." Similar in structure to the lyrical "Divining" and the dramatic "Mercy (Procession)," "Red Line to Greenland" builds gradually, modulating from pointillist discourse into careening polyrhythms, peaking with Cline's abstract interpretation of guitar-hero theatrics. More than any guitarist working today, Cline has fully absorbed the innovations of Jimi Hendrix
, seamlessly incorporating pedals and assorted efx into his playingnot merely as accentsbut as key components of an expressive electronic language.
The live date features older material, some covers and two new tunes. Of the new works, "Forge" ascends to an inevitable climax of coruscating feedback, while the pile-driving "Raze" is as relentless as its title suggests. "Thurston County," from Cline's 2009 solo effort Coward (Crytogramophone), invokes the many moods of its dedicatee (Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore), from pastoral introspection to whiplash frenzy. Two contrasting covers are prominently featured, Carla Bley
's regal ballad "And Now the Queen" and Joe Zawinul
's Weather Report
favorite "Boogie Woogie Waltz." The former serves as an impressionistic respite from the group's usual volume and density, the later is a fitting set closer. Joined on percussion by members of Deerhoof (a Cline favorite), the augmented trio deconstructs seventies fusion tropes with post-punk fervor.
With its combination of studio precision and live energy, Initiate presents the most complete picture available of The Nels Cline Singers. Packaged in a double gatefold digipack adorned with Simon Norfolk's photos of the world's largest supercollider, this collection captures the surging electricity suggested by the album jacket, proving that sometimes a book can be judged by its cover.
Personnel: Nels Cline: electric and acoustic guitars, effects, voice, megamouth, thingamagoop; Devin Hoff: contrabass, bass guitar; Scott Amendola: drum set, percussion, mbira, live electronics, loops, treatments; David Witham: electric piano (CD1#4,9) organ (CD1#10), Yuka Honda: synth (CD1#13); Greg Saunier: percussion (CD2#8); Satomi Matsuzaki: percussion (CD2#8); John Dieterich: percussion (CD2#8).