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Alex Cline: Free-Spirited Drummer

By Published: March 9, 2009
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Composing remains one of the things that occupies Cline, especially when it comes time for a recording.

"Every piece is a bit different. I will say that it tends to be hard for me to make time to compose. One of the reasons this record (Continuationgot finished was because...two big reasons. One is when I got the idea to do it and (label owner and executive producer) Jeff Gauthier gave it the green light and started pestering me to make it happen, I wound up ultimately having a deadline. And deadlines are good for productivity sometimes," says Cline. "The other main reason is that after completing the other two Cryptogramophone CDs I did as a leader (Sparks Fly Upward, 1999; and The Constant Flame, 2001), the Alex Cline Ensemble ones, a lot of things in my life changed. I wound up having not even less time to compose, but no time to compose. I also didn't have the concentration anymore to compose, largely due to my becoming a parent and having to deal with all that. I couldn't sit down and concentrate in a way that was productive up until about the fall of 2007. It was kind of like the fog lifted and I was able to concentrate like that again.

"Between that and the deadline to do this project after, happily, the participants that I wanted involved all agreed to do it. It came really quickly. In the case of this particular music, in comparison to some of the music I had done on other projects, the music went quite fast. Part is because I tend to have the overall idea already in place, so I'm not groping along from bar to bar. Also, because I felt that this time I tried to write a little bit less and allow the musicians' improvisational skills to be more present in the music and have more opportunity. Also, for some reason I wasn't as attached to the details of this music. So when I came up with something that was pretty much what I wanted to say, I just stopped, rather than go back and re-work it again and again, as I might have in the past. I just let things be and didn't overwork things as much. It went quickly this time, relatively speaking."

While times are tough for many musicians, Cline stays busy. In fact, "I can be a little too busy for my own taste," he says. "I do work part time (at the Center for Oral History Research at UCLA) in order to guarantee steady money. I made this decision over 20 years ago because I don't want to feel the stress of having to hustle gigs. I don't want to put that expectation on everything I do, that it pay me a certain amount of money to be worth doing. If nothing else, that's an unrealistic expectation if one is going to continue to play this kind of music."

Alex ClineBetween being a father, keeping things straight at home and pursuing other interests, including curating a concert series in Los Angeles, "I'm way too busy for my own liking at this point. I'd love it if I could simplify my life a lot more. It doesn't seem possible though," he says with a soft laugh.

He also worked with his brother on a project that he estimates will be released in the fall. "It's music that Nels did, commissioned by producer and writer David Breskin, based on artwork by L.A. artist Ed Roche. It's a very ambitious 2-CD and coffee table art book project a German publisher is doing. That's about as big a product as I can imagine being part of."

"There are always things I'd like to someday do, " he says of his own career." Right now, I'd like to be able to play more with this same group (from Continuation), because it was such an extreme pleasure and honor to play this music with those people. I do have it on my wish list to someday do a recording of improvisations as a duo with Myra Melford. We did that with dancers and it was deeply satisfying to me artistically, and it was also fun. I would like to do a solo percussion recording again at some point. I'm not crazy enough to think that there's more than 20 people interested in that. That's not something I'm thinking is on anybody's priority list.

"Otherwise, my goals are pretty modest. I don't have any big pet projects I'm angling toward getting done at this point. It's one step at a time for me. I'm really happy I was able to do this particular CD project. It started out as what I thought was a pipe dream and ended up actually happening. I couldn't be happier, really."

Selected Discography:

Alex Cline, Continuation (Cryptogramophone, 2009)
Jeff Gauthier Goatette, House of Return (Cryptogramophone, 2008)
Jeff Gauthier Goatette, One and the Same (Cryptogramophone, 2006)
Alex Cline/Kaoru/Miya Masaoka/G.E. Stinson, Cloud Plate (Cryptogramophone, 2005)
Alex Cline Ensemble, The Constant Flame (Cryptogramophone, 2001)
Nels Cline, Destroy All Nels Cline! (Atavistic, 2001)
Various Artists, The Music of Eric Von Essen, Vol I (Cryptogramophone, 2000)
Alex Cline Ensemble, Sparks Fly Upward (Cryptogramophone, 1999)
Alex Cline Ensemble, Montsalvat (Nine Winds, 1996)
Alex Cline Ensemble, The Lamp and the Star (ECM, 1987)
Alex Cline, Not Alone (Nine Winds, 1982)
Alex Cline, Nels Cline, Eric von Essen, Jeff Gauthier, Quartet Music (Nine Winds, 1980)
Vinnie Golia, Spirits and Fellowship (Nine Winds, 1977)
Jamil Shabaka & Alex Cline, Duo Infinity (Aten, 1977)

Photo Credits

Courtesy of Cryptogramophone

Featured Story: Anne Fishbein

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