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Interviews

Nels Cline: Of Singers and Sound

By Published: May 10, 2010

AAJ: And speaking of wistful, you go right into "b86."

NC: Right, which is more space jazz, and for me in a weird way, inspired, more in retrospect—once I hear these things back, I sometimes go like, whoa, what it sounds like to me is some kind of ECM Ellingtonia. Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
1915 - 1967
piano
ish harmonic information at the beginning, something like "Blood Count." Then just space-out rubato stuff, which makes me think of the first Weather Report record, or you think Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
b.1947
sax, tenor
will come with tons of reverb over that chord at the end. It's just stuff that oozes out of my consciousness unavoidably.



AAJ: "Zingiber" is a beautiful duet with Devon.

NC: That's a little written thing with more psychedelic Tropicalia reference at the end. It's just this idea of sparkle, like the introduction of the record—this idea of walking into a magic garden, very sensual, not all that musically advanced, but maybe have a feeling that's a little transporting without being punishing. I do enough punishing on the live record.

AAJ: There are so many great examples on this record where you play unaltered, straightforward, unprocessed guitar—it's a good reminder of just how much technique you bring.

NC: Oh, cool. Well, that's electric baritone guitar on that. I love the baritone guitar.

AAJ: Custom made?

NC: No, they're all around these days. Same guitar I used on earlier pieces by the Singers, one called "Cajun Heart Blues" on Draw Breath (Cryptogramophone, 2007), and also a ballad on the first record, "Slipped Away," which is still one of my favorites of our recorded works.

AAJ: How many shows were recorded for the live record?

NC: The live record is the second night of two nights at Café Du Nord—the entire first set and first song from the second set, in the sequence we played them in. We got all warmed up on the second night, the sound was all dialed in, we were more relaxed, probably feeling a little less under the microscope, and there it is, warts and all.

The beginning of the live record, which is "Forge," is also a blatant kind of repetition that is sort of King Crimson/Mahavishnu Orchestra

Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu Orchestra
b.1971
band/orchestra
, with Scott Amendola doing all this electronic processing underneath it. And then it goes into a piece from Giant Pin (Cryptogramophone, 2004) called "Fly Fly," which we didn't do the first night. Excuses to improvise—that's what we look for when we're playing live.

And the piece called "Raze" has never been written out; it's just a series of cues that we came up with during rehearsals for the gig, having gotten back together. It's just cues, there's not much writing involved. It's just for a heightened immersion in distorted sound. "Sunken Song" is from The Inkling (Cryptogramophone, 2000), but I've been playing that for years now. As part of our repertoire, we play it faster and louder than the version on the Inkling. That head, which is one of my favorites because it's so short—I finally did something that's almost like a lead sheet. To me, it's a real nod to John Scofield

John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
with the quality it has, melodically, rhythmically, harmonically.

AAJ: The inclusion of "Boogie Woogie Waltz" was a great surprise. It comes off as one of those songs that's so iconic you never expect a cover, and then you hear the cover and it's brilliant. It opens unexpected doors in a familiar, beautiful tune.

NC: There's a lot of clams on it, but I just let them go. I'd get excited, and I'm looking around at my friends from Deerhoof that are playing percussion, banging on floor tom, doing what they're doing. I'm really fascinated by songs that are, as you call them, iconic, but no one plays them. Sometimes it's because they seem untouchable, like playing "Acknowledgment" from [John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
's] A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964)...

AAJ: Or doing the Interstellar Space (Impulse, 1967) album.

NC: Right, right, exactly. But other times, you just have to wonder. I just revel in the idea that no one's playing this. When Joe Zawinul passed away, we did a concert at Café Du Nord with the Singers plus the brilliant Chicago guitarist Jeff Parker

Jeff Parker
Jeff Parker

guitar
, and we played some Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, and little of this and a little of that, one of Scott's tunes, a couple of my tunes, but we ended with "His Last Journey," from Zawinul's solo record called Zawinul (Atlantic, 1971). It's a tone poem for his grandfather, certainly a harbinger of future brilliant tone poems by Joe Zawinul, and I really have to say that sometimes I actually set aside my doubts and self consciousness and say, "I think was a really cool idea because I bet nobody's ever covered this song." And we did it our own way, but it's still "His Last Journey."

So, sometimes I kind of dig doing songs that no one seems to do that sometimes are really obvious, like "Boogie Woogie Waltz." Seems like someone would have done it. Maybe they played it in college. I don't know what kids are doing in college these days, but I haven't heard anybody else play it. When Zawinul died, it had a weird effect on me, like when John Fahey died. It had a larger and more multifaceted effect on me than I could have predicted. It threw me into a whole series of different reveries, then thought processes.

David Breskin is a Joe Zawinul/Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
fiend, and I went back and started listening to the early Weather Report
Weather Report
Weather Report

band/orchestra
records, which are the only ones I'm particularly enamored with, and I once again began to inhale that joyous reinvention of pentatonic music. He makes pentatonic scales sound like the freshest thing ever. Not to mention, he has harmonic brilliance as well.

Pieces like "Nubian Sundance," but also "Jungle Book," for me, are so phenomenal and so incredibly inspiring. So, I just started going back to that feeling, listening to "Orange Lady" and "Second Sunday in August"—these kinds of things. And I think, now that we're talking about it, here's another weird parallel, what about I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia, 1972), US release, with the studio side very studio, and the live stuff very live. I don't think anybody expected Weather Report to get up there and do something that sounded like "Unknown Soldier."

Anyway, we've played it three times, twice at Café du Nord, and once at the Angel City Jazz Festival. For me it's always pointing a finger, saying hey, check this out, or reexamine this, or hear it for the first time. Payback.



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