No one can accuse guitarist Nels Cline of being predictable. He has recorded with his avant-garde trio the Nels Cline Singers most consistently (with bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola), but also led larger groups, such as the one on New Monastery (Cryptogramophone, 2006). More recently there was his duet with guitarist Julian Lage on Room (Mack Avenue, 2014), not to mention his membership in the rock group Wilco since 2004. His Blue Note debut Lovers is a unique entry in his discography: an expansive update of the romantic "mood music" genre, which he has been thinking about for over 25 years. The chamber orchestra arranged and conducted by Michael Leonhart is a defining part of the sound. The ensemble includes several previous Cline collaborators: bassist Devin Hoff, drummer Alex Cline, guitarist Julian Lage, harpist Zeena Parkins, and violinist Jeff Gauthier, to name a few. Although there are some prominent individual voices, it's very much a group sound, with Cline as spotlighted soloist.
The double-disc's 18 tracks cover a wide range of material. The Great American Songbook is well represented, including "Beautiful Love," "Secret Love, " "I Have Dreamed" and others. Jazz standards include Jimmy Giuffre's "Cry, Want," Gabor Szabo's "Lady Gabor" and Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation." There are also five Cline originals, plus more recent cover material. Cline's guitar playing can be edgy, but opener "Introduction/Diaphanous" gives notice that things will be different, as Cline turns in a beautiful straight-ahead jazz guitar solo. He plays the head on Rodgers & Hart's "Glad To Be Unhappy," even using octaves some of the time. That's a sound that unavoidably recalls the seminal jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, who took a lot of flack for making crossover recordings with orchestra much like this one.
Cline does use his customary electronic effects, although more sparingly than usual. "Cry, Want" includes a bit of discreet whammy bar; "Lady Gabor" opens with very electronic-sounding looping effects; and lap steel with volume swells takes the lead on "I Have Dreamed" and "Why Was I Born." Cline's adventurous tendencies are perhaps most visible in some of his song choices. "Snare, Girl" is a tribute to Sonic Youth, while the Ambitious Lovers ' "It Only Has To Happen Once" is a nod to guitarists Arto Lindsay and Marc Ribot. The Annette Peacock medley of "So Hard It Hurts/Touching" sounds the most like a track on other Nels Cline albumsit's the sort of cover material he favors.
Cline's discography is so varied that it's hard to know exactly what to expect from him. But it's safe to say that no one was expecting something like this. Lovers is a beautifully realized project that showcases a new facet of Cline's composing and playing. It's a quiet stunner, sure to win over anyone approaching it with open ears.
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.
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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