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Nels Cline/Wally Shoup/Chris Corsano: Immolation/Immersion

John Kelman By

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Guitarist Nels Cline seems to lead at least a double life. On one hand he's been a significant force on the edgy Left Coast music scene for the past thirty years, collaborating on fearless explorations into the unknowns of free improvisation and left-of-center composition with artists like Vinny Golia, Gregg Bendian, and Steuart Liebig—not to mention his own Nels Cline Singers. Conversely, he also plays guitar with alt-rockers Wilco. But the line between these seemingly diametrically opposed interests is far fuzzier than one might think. One listen to his stunning work on Wilco's live recording Kicking Television: Live in Chicago and it's clear that while he's completely inside the lyricism of Jeff Tweedy's softer side, he also brings something more outward-reaching to the table.

Still, even Cline's skronkiest solos won't prepare Wilco fans for his latest excursion into free improvisation, Immolation/Immersion—a collective with alto saxophonist Wally Shoup and drummer Chris Corsano. Even at its most extreme, Cline's work with Wilco revolves around form. While Immolation/Immersion has its own shape, largely the result of three players who are listening and responding to each other in the deepest sense, it's harder to approach, perhaps impossibly so for any but the most hardcore listener.

The link between Shoup, Corsano, and Cline is Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, with whom all three have recorded, just not at the same time. Cline's influence on Moore's noise improv was made abundantly clear at separate appearances at this year's Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, but Cline would be the first to say it's a two-way street. Considering some of the pure white noise that Cline creates on "Immolation/Immersion," there's much to support that suggestion. Still, Cline possesses a more encyclopaedic musical knowledge, one that he applies to great effect. While Moore is all about texture in a free situation, Cline assembles mini-structures, as on the beginning of the title track, where his rapid linear playing creates a contextual foundation over which Shoup and Corsano can build. It's not exactly swing, but Corsano's fluid, around-the-kit maelstrom demonstrates he knows where he's coming from.

The members of this trio understand the value of dynamics equally well. The title track covers considerable ground, from dense clusters to spacious landscapes. It would be a stretch to call anything these players do beautiful, but they do create more expansive respites from the jagged extremes surrounding them.

"Lake of Fire Memories resides exclusively in chaos territory, with Shoup's extended techniques matching Cline and Corsano's sonic intensities, while "Minus Mint is darker—Shoup favoring lower registers, Cline a cleaner tone, and Corsano a gentler touch.

Some listeners may feel that free improvisation is aimless—one moment indistinguishable from the next—but Cline, Shoup, and Corsano wrestle that belief to its knees through vivid three-way communication with no clear leader. Immolation/Immersion could also be called immoderate—though its limitless range is not necessarily about excess, despite much of it being a full frontal assault that will likely scare off all but the most adventurous and open-minded of audiences.

Visit Nels Cline, Wally Shoup, and Chris Corsano on the web.


Track Listing: Lake of Fire Memories; Immolation/Immersion; Minus Mint; Beard of Pine; Ghost Bell Canto.

Personnel: Nels Cline: electric guitar, effects; Wally Shoup: alto saxophone; Chris Corsano: drums, wires.

Title: Immolation/Immersion | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Strange Attractors Audio House

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