When I first heard excerpts from Nels Cline's Lovers project, I wasn't too impressed. I thought it sounded like some kind of archaic "mood music" album. Then as I heard more about the set, including the songs being performed and the personnel performing them, I became intrigued. Now I've heard the entire thing and understand what a monumental work it is.
Cline has created a kaleidoscopic orchestral tribute to all the facets and emotions of love that is worlds away from his skronky jazz-rock playing with the Nels Cline Singers or his work with the rock band Wilco. Leading a large group of jazz and new music players he explores a variety of genres in a 2 CD set that includes pop standards, originals, soundtrack pieces and jazz and rock composers as disparate as Jimmy Giuffre, Annette Peacock, Arto Lindsay and Sonic Youth.
Cline's playing has none of the violence he's known for. Instead it's tasteful and textured in the manner of Jim Hall, who the project is dedicated to. Michael Leonhart's arrangements of standards like "Glad To Be Unhappy" and "Beautiful Love" do have a lush orchestral sound but he uses plenty of other approaches as well. Giuffre's "Cry, Want" is boiled to an essence of sparse blue guitar notes over minimal bass and drums while Gabor Szabo's "Lady Gabor" sits in a fragrant cloud of psychedelia with a background of marimba, flute and Zeena Parkins' harp bringing Alice Coltrane to mind.
"The Bed We Made" is a tender strummed duet for Cline and Julian Lage, "Why Was I Born" mixes together pedal steel guitar and Hot Club of France-style swing, and "Secret Love" gets a brisk Latin makeover while also showcasing some of Cline's most liquid playing of the set. It's not all contentment and longing either. The darker aspects of love are suggested by tracks like Sonic Youth's ominous "Snare, Girl" which converts surprisingly well to an orchestra treatment and the Annette Peacock medley which the trio of Cline, Devin Hoff and Alex Cline treat with the unsettling menace of earlier Paul Bley versions of the tunes.
Leonhart's arranging is amazing in its imagination and variety. He supports Cline as well as Gil Evans did Miles Davis many years ago in their historic collaborations. Together they've created a suite of music like nothing else out there right now, a deep and remarkable exploration of musical romance that is one of the unquestioned milestones of Nels Cline's career.
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.