Having recently shared a 50th birthday recital/jam with his twin brother, Alex, at Cryptogramophone label owner/producer Jeff Gauthier's Cryptonight, LA's Nels Cline shows no sign of slowing down. A musician of limitless range, he creates, among other sounds, noise using kitchen utensils on a heavily processed guitar, enhances Willie Nelson tunes with soulful ornamentation, rocks Wilco, and offers versions of the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and now Andrew Hill. Featuring Nels Cline Singers colleagues Scott Amendola on drums and Devin Hoff on bass along with clarinetist Ben Goldberg, cornetist Bobby Bradford, and accordionist Andrea Parkins, New Monastery::A View into the Music of Andrew Hill has been released on Cryptogramophone. The critically acclaimed The Giant Pin (Cryptogramophone, 2004), with the Nels Cline Singers, wound up on several year-end best of lists. During a busy week, about to leave for a month with Wilco, Cline discussed New Monastery.
All About Jazz: When you decided to pay homage to an under-known living musician, did you work from a long list?
Nels Cline: It took me about three seconds of pondering whose music we should do to come up with Andrew Hill, not knowing that Ben [Goldberg] had played with Andrew Hill before. Then, as I began to mull over which pieces we should attempt, that's when I realized we needed a brass player. Though I wasn't sure if Bobby Bradford wanted to do something like this, I called him and he was really into it. I'd never been able to record with Bobby in all the years I'd played with him, and as we were driving up to the Bay Area together I was reminiscing about the first time I met him, which he didn't remember. But I met him when I was eighteen and, as such, reflecting upon that I guess he was the first real jazz guy I ever played with. I auditioned with him, but didn't get the job. I was way out of my depth, but he was very kind. Actually, he and John Carter were always very supportive and interested in me and my brother. So, that was a real honor to be able to do that. We had a real blast, everybody really enjoyed each other making the project happen.
This is the same thing, in a way, that happened when I recorded Interstellar Space (Atavistic, 1999) with Gregg Bendian. There was all kinds of potential for scholarship that I somehow didn't know about. I remember [percussionist] Adam Rudolph saying, "Have you seen [pianist] Alice Coltrane's book? She's got some of those lines in the back of the book, did you check that out? I had no idea. Similarly with this Andrew Hill thing, I didn't know he had a new Blue Note record coming out this year. I didn't know that [woodwind multi-instrumentalist] Anthony Braxton had done a record of his music, which I still haven't found. Somebody told me yesterday they'd heard that [saxophonist] Peter Apfelbaum, or someone was doing arrangements of Andrew Hill music. Unknowingly, I'm part of a growing trend of Andrew Hill-related energy, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion.
In coming up with this idea, I really wanted it to be the music of somebody who is still alive, because we always trot out all the drama when a great one dies. I know I've had my share of dedications to dead people in my day. There's certainly nothing wrong with it, but I do think it's a little bit of a human foible, if looked at in a certain light, to constantly honor the dead. It's amazing how many people I've described this project to don't know who Andrew Hill is, so that leads me to believe I may have done the right thing. But it wasn't because I can shed light on Andrew Hill, or I can direct some sort of audience toward Andrew Hill. It really had more specifically to do with the fact that the architecture, the content of his composing and his style has something within it that I thought we as interpreters could immediately latch onto.
And I think I was right. Certainly we took a more so-called free jazz approach to some of the earlier tunes. I think that rather than trying to recreate some kind of a Blue Note session, and we didn't just do Blue Note material, although it's primarily Blue Note material. We're using some electronics, and there's no piano, but still I think that everyone really related to the essence in some way, the brilliance of these pieces. The originality, and hopefully we have some new versions that people can enjoy. I don't think there's any pretension towards revelation here, these are just versions of the songs done in a way that befits our identities collectively and individually as an ensemble.
AAJ: Did you learn the pieces from scores or by ear?