Guitarist Nels Cline
sure does get around. In the past few months we've seen the release of the latest Nels Cline Singers disc, The Giant Pin
; a collaboration with Vinny Golia, The Entire Time
; and a quasi-ambient duet with bassist Devin Sarno, Buried on Bunker Hill
. This, in addition to hitting the road with Wilco, makes Cline one very busy boy. As if that weren't enough, he has a new album of adventurous soundscapes with accordionist/keyboardist Andrea Parkins and drummer Tom Rainey. Ash and Tabula
may not appeal to fans of more structured music, but for those who can open their ears and embrace music as a textural affair that doesn't have to rely on fixed rhythmic or melodic conceits, it makes for a remarkably varied and rewarding listen.
People can be easily frightened away from music classified as free improvisation or, as some prefer it, spontaneous composition. Without a specific harmonic or rhythmic centre, things can be just too abstract, too oblique. And all too often this kind of record has a certain uniformity of intent that makes for a monotonous experience. But by opening the mind to the possibility of stretching the boundaries of conventional instruments, and listening to the music as much with the eyes as the ears, the kind of music that Cline, Parkins and Rainey make can be highly evocative. And whereas some trios work within restricted confines of ambience and timbre, this one creates a wide breadth of sound and style, concept and texture.
"Ruination" starts things off on an anarchistic note, with Parkins and Cline pulling ever-increasing layers of noise from their instruments while Rainey, one of the most capable listeners in free jazz today, feeds off their chaos, building the intensity to an almost ear-shattering level. "Lower Story" builds on the chaos, with Cline's effects-laden guitar and Parkins' dark organ held together loosely by Rainey's sometimes metronomic, other times highly irregular rhythms.
In contrast to these edgier pieces, "Alleys of North America," which begins with Parkins' abstract piano and Cline's chordal swells, is a more spacious piece that conjures images of dark and dangerous corners. "Poem in an Ashtray" straddles the line between mysterious introspection and more direct expressionism.
But what distinguishes this from some free recordings is the chemistry that Cline, Parkins and Rainey clearly share. Even at its most obscure, there's a sense that the players are working off rather than against each other. Rainey, in particular, demonstrates the kind of intuitive inner logic that has made him so essential to the music of Tim Berne over the past eight years. And while he works with a more strictly organic instrument, avoiding all use of effects and electronics, he manages to squeeze out sounds that are surprisingly diverse.
Ash and Tabula is a daring recording, proving that three like-minded artists can create, from the humblest beginnings, a rich and unlikely record that, while clearly challenging, has much to offer the intrepid listener.
Visit Nels Cline and Andrea Parkins on the web. Also see AAJ's recent Nels Cline interview .
Personnel: Nels Cline (guitar, effects), Andrea Parkins (accordion, effects, piano, electric keyboards), Tom Rainey (drums)