The one constant with a new record from guitarist Nels Cline is the element of surprise. From the ambient industrial sound of his recent collaboration with bassist Devin Sarno, Buried on Bunker Hill , to the avant but occasionally groove-centric work with his band, Nels Cline Singers, and their latest, The Giant Pin , to everything from lyrical country-tinged work to serious shredding with Wilco , the one thing that defines Cline is his voracious appetite to try anything, to play everything. And yet, considering the diversity of musical contexts in which he places himself, there's a clearly identifiable style that emerges, whether he is playing acoustic or electric, six or twelve string, nylon string or steel. Whether playing acoustic music with the now-defunct Ralph Towner-with-an-urban-edge Quartet Music or contributing hard-edged fusion to Scot Ray's Active Vapor Recovery , Cline's oblique style, with its rough edges and abstract harmonic sensibility, pervades whatever he does.
Woodwind multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia is as stylistically broad as Cline, albeit in a different way, combining a strong exploratory verve with an approach that is equal parts jazz, world music and contemporary classical music. Golia and Cline go back nearly thirty years, when Golia would spend time at the Cline household socializing and playing music. In the ensuing years Cline and Golia have played a lot of duet music together, but none has ever seen commercial release.
Until now. The Entire Time is a remarkable album of mostly free improvisations, demonstrating the breadth of both players and the kind of empathy that can only come from years of collaborative work.
A variety of textures comes from both players' use of a diversity of instruments. On "Divining" Cline creates a backwash of ambient noise over which he layers abstruse electric twelve-string guitar lines in synch with Golia's bass clarinet. "City Snow Stories" is more tranquil, with Golia's alto flute drawing out long tones over Cline's carefully and gradually-developed nylon-string guitar. On "Opus de Kirkus (for Rahsaan Roland Kirk)" Golia plays stritch and tenor saxophone simultaneously, while Cline creates atonal textures on electric six-string, shifting into a middle passage where Golia and Cline seem to spur for linear dominance. "Smooth Surface, The Canals - two," with its twelve-string acoustic guitar and soprano saxophone, could have precedence in the improvisational side of Ralph Towner and Oregon, but there is something more angular, more sharp-edged and intense. And Golia demonstrates a wealth of extended techniques on his instruments that one almost never hears from Oregon woodwind player Paul McCandless.
Yet as obscure as the entire recording is, it is also strangely compelling and even, if one can keep an open mind, approachable. There's nary a fixed motif to hang onto (with the exception of the one composed track, Cline's short "For Oliver Lake"), yet intriguing ideas leap out from every corner. For listeners who think of free improvisation as aimless meandering, The Entire Time is a fine argument for a genre which, at its best, demonstrates a musical simpatico that is rarely surpassed in other contexts.
Track Listing: Divining; City Snow Stories; For Oliver Lake; The Tiny Boxes Speak Her Name; Smooth Surface, The Canals - one; Opus de Kirkus; Fond Rememberances of Luther Talbot; Smooth Surfaces, The Canada - two; Destination Deeth