The power of Nels Cline's Lovers does not stem from his guitar mastery. It flows from the solidity of its finely orchestrated vision. Rendered over 18 pieces and marking the fulfillment of a 25-year endeavor, the album explores the contours of intimacy through a series of compositions ranging from ambient abstraction, to blues, to jazz ballads, to excruciatingly taut hybrids that fold this diversity together in layers of elegance.
Never marred by the indulgences or lack of focus that often plague such personal, long-meditated-upon quests, Lovers is instead an exercise in restraint. Void of excessive pyrotechnics, Cline instead applies his virtuosity like a master painter, the brushstrokes often disappearing entirely in service to the image. For this reason, it can take some time to absorb the full scope of what Cline has attempted, and largely accomplished, with the aid of skilled arranger and conductor Michael Leonhart, and the support of a large ensemble of accomplished musicians.
It would require pages to fully describe the banquet offered on Lovers, but a sampling provides a sense of its sumptuous nature.
The album opens with the Cline original "Diaphanous," which gently sets the stage for the ensuing elaborate dance via a mixture of ethereal strings and delicate guitar solo. A sweeping rendition of Rodgers and Hart's "Glad to be Happy" follows, which cleverly utilizes a hollow Chet Baker style trumpet solo, while establishing the precedent for the album's continued alternation between originals and a variety of covers mined from jazz standards, punk rock, and everything in between.
Jimmy Giuffre's "Cry, Want," delves into yearning via bent note blues and atmospheric abstractions; "Lady Gabor" rides a moody base line deeper into dislocated ambience, as if plunging into foggy night; A heartbeat-like bowed bass infuses the joyful, Spanish tinged "Secrete Love" with the anxiety of a stolen tryst; "It Only Has to Happen Once" adds Portishead inspired trip-hop sensibilities to electric guitar to drop into bittersweet lament; Sonic Youth's "Snare, Girl" is converted into a touching, sensual swell; and the final composition "The Bond" provides a tender arc of quiet sweetness to complete the album's circle.
It is clear that Nels Cline poured himself into bringing Lovers from first conception to fruition, applying his instrumental mastery, experience, and maturity to a project that may have been prolonged in its coming, but would almost certainly have been lesser had it sprung forth in the heat of the moment. The material and its delivery clearly benefit from the nurturing and applied contemplation of time's passage.
It is equally clear that Cline could not have delivered this alone. The musicians he engaged represent an impressive roster of modern music's most esteemed contributors, working on a wild array of instruments and styles. Finally, Blue Note itself should be commended for fostering this project and allowing it to come forward as Cline's label debut. It is the kind of work that requires commitment from all involved and the results are now available for all to hear.
Track Listing: CD 1: Introduction/Diaphanous; Glad to Be Unhappy; Beautiful Love;
Hairpin & Hatbox; Cry, Want; Lady Gabor; The Bed We Made; You Noticed;
Secret Love; I Have Dreamed. CD2: Why Was I Born?; Invitation; It Only Has to Happen Once; The
Night Porter/Max, Mon Amour; Snare, Girl; So Hard It Hurts/Touching; The
Search for Cat; The Bond.
Personnel: Nels Cline: chitarra elettrica, acustica, lap steel, elettronica; Devin Hoff:
contrabbasso, basso elettrico; Alex Cline: batteria, percussioni; Steven
Bernstein: tromba, tromba slide, flicorno, flicorno contralto; Taylor Haskins:
tromba, flicorno, trombone a pistoni; Michael Leonhart: tromba, flicorno, celesta,
salterio, arrangiamenti; Alan Ferber: trombone, trombone basso; Charles Pillow:
flauti, oboe, corno inglese, sassofono contralto, clarinetto; Jd Parran: flauti,
clarinetti, sassofono basso e baritono; Ben Goldberg: clarinetti; Doug
Wieselman: clarinetti, sax tenore; Gavin Templeton: clarinetto, sassofono
contralto; Sara Schoenbeck: fagotto; Julian Lage: chitarra elettrica e acustica;
Kenny Wollesen: vibrafono, marimba, percussioni; Zeena Parkins: arpa; Yuka C
Honda: celesta, tastiere; Antoine Silverman: violino; Jeff Gauthier: violino; Amy
Kimball: viola, violino; Stephanie Griffin: viola; Erik Friedlander: violoncello;
Maggie Parkins: violoncello.
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