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A Fireside Chat with Nels Cline

AAJ Staff By

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In those days, it was a much bigger deal to be an uncategorizable player. It was much more of a stigma to be in the cracks.
I could refer to myself as having long been a Nels Cline enthusiast, but I cannot tell a lie. In fact, I am a recent convert, having listened to Interstellar Space Revisited (The Music of John Coltrane) in the summer of '99 (which doesn't have nearly the ring that the Bryan Adams ditty has). But I have since been a quick study. Cline, like Vinny Golia, Horace Tapscott, John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Adam Rudolph, and too many others to mention without cramping my fingers, has not only been loyal to Los Angeles by not bailing to New York, but has also helped define the musical landscape that is our fair city. It isn't easy being an individual in Los Angeles. And it couldn't be any easier being an individual artist. Folks, Nels Cline, unedited and in his own words.

Fred Jung: Let's touch on your involvement with the Scot Ray Quintet.

Nels Cline: It's not a band that plays often, but we have gigs this May to celebrate the release of the CD that is coming out on Cryptogramophone, Jeff Gauthier's label. It's called Active Vapor Recovery. It is Steuart Liebig on six string electric bass, my brother Alex on drums and percussion, and Jeff Gauthier on electric violin. For me, it is a fun type of group. Some of the material is kind of fusion, but the material is very wide ranging, so there is not really one kind of playing and I find that it hits on all different ways that I like to play at some point, including ways that I am reluctant to play, but are ultimately satisfying, like hefty guitar solos.

Scot Ray is not only a remarkable trombonist and I know that this may sound trite, but it counts for a lot in my life, I just think he's a really good person and a very sincere musician. He is very interesting in how loose he is at times about his concept, yet at the same time, he has a very specific way of making music. I find that an interesting combination and the fact that he formed a band with three of my oldest musical associates that are in town, makes it a lot of fun as well. If Vinny [Golia] was in the band, it would literally be a band made up of people I've played music with for over twenty years each. I really love playing funky rhythm guitar. I don't get to do it much anymore and Scot has a couple of tunes where funky rhythm guitar was the order of the day.

FJ: And you are also a member of the Scott Amendola Band.

NC: Right, I played in the Scott Amendola Band quite a bit this year and have now for a couple of years. A lot of the material sends to be rather open-ended at times. There is a certain way in which the band is trusted to flush out the material using its instincts. Scott directs the music in a way that is not particularly didactic. There is a sense of leadership, but there is not a sense of an iron grip on the aesthetic of the band. It isn't afraid to delve into potentially generic turf like blues or funk, but the writing itself is not generic in any way.

FJ: And your own projects: the Nels Cline Singers, why did you name it the Singers?

NC: I really felt that I needed to use my name in the band, just so people would know it was me playing, which was a hard decision that was made years ago with the Nels Cline Trio. The band members, Mark London Sims and Michael Preussner sort of mutinied and said that I should call it the Nels Cline Trio because I was calling it Bartholomew and they hated that. I had not led a band before that. The reason it is not called the Nels Cline Trio now is out of deference to the original trio, which a lot of people were very aware of. Rather than call it Nels Cline Trio, I thought a funny, yet still generic term was singers, relating to those old groups from the late '50s. Since the CD is called Instrumentals, there is a certain tongue-in-cheek aspect to it, but I would have to say that the music itself is not humorous.

FJ: And your new band?

NC: I am going to give it a name, but we are a theory right now. I am really just starting to write for this. For one thing, everyone will live here in town because the Singers is with Devin and Scott and they're in Oakland and I spend a lot of time up there, but ultimately, I want to be able to work on something here in town that is more of a project in order to develop a vocabulary of playing that will be less about so called jazz than even the Singers. It won't be quite so direct and will be more about certain compositional parameters. I just need to do a different kind of writing.

With this new group, I would like to be able to work on compositional ideas away from live performance for a while and present things that may not actually work, but I want to try them. There is no bass, although I would like the group to be open ended enough to accommodate guest musicians. If we have this core of four people, Noah Phillips and Alex and Jessica Catron, I would like to periodically add Jeff Gauthier on violin. Certainly, the group is about strings at this point and possibly Scot Ray. I can't get over my fascination with layered string instruments.

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