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Vinny Golia Quintet: Nation of Laws

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We don’t even make it past the first four minutes of this disc without Nels Cline exploding with some of his characteristic unheard sounds on electric guitar, and towards the 9 minute mark of this same first piece, there’s an incredible merging of voices between Nels Cline’s guitar and Vinny Golia’s clarinet. However, this disc is not a Nels-fest, although he does unleash a number of great solos, making it essential for all Nels-heads; first and foremost it is a disc of varied and excellent compositions by Vinny Golia, played by 5 top-notch musicians with an extremely impressive collective resume. Anybody who has followed the Jazz music of the past 20 years is quite familiar with Golia’s compositions and playing, and it pretty much suffices to say that everything here is up to his usual high standards. Like many other Golia projects, the music retains many elements of tradition, most obviously in the frequent use of the alternating-solos-over-steady-rhythm format, but, unlike scores of other Jazz groups who use such a format, the creative level of all the soloists is high enough to maintain the listener’s attention at all times. Each piece is a fully developed and distinctive entity with a healthy balance of clever composition and intriguing solos that stands up over repeated listens.

The only piece I wasn’t initially too enthusiastic about is “Perfect in the Pocket”, but its predictable, repetitive, low-key mood is really a fine compositional achievement that leaves a strong impression on the listener. Also, things start to really heat up between the Cline brothers near the end of the piece, with Alex Cline dishing up the best drumming on the album. The special chemistry between Alex and Nels Cline is most evident on “Grampa’s Function”, probably the highlight of the disc for me. Parts of this piece find all five musicians interacting equally in a parallel mode, breaking from the foreground/background format of most of the disc. There’s a lot of very active, creative drumming and surprising juxtapositions throughout the piece.

“Big Child on the Loose” is the most extroverted and energetic piece of the disc, with occasional stop-start, choppy rhythms and bouncy vamps that make the piece’s 15 minutes seem to fly by in seconds, bringing to mind groups like Debris, The Sort of Quartet, X-Legged Sally, NRG Ensemble, etc. It’s also filled with fantastic solos from Rob Blakeslee, Vinny Golia, and Nels Cline. Golia in particular really lets loose some delicious riffing on his bass sax and Nels’s outrageous solo at the end reminds me of the story a friend told me about a Nels gig in New York where the audience was bowing after every solo he took. Overall, we have an album that covers a really wide range of territory, from infectious swinging heads, to adventurous improvisations and tense contemporary classical explorations, making it sit comfortably next to the other gems in these musicians’ discographies. The level of composition and improvisation is world-class, and should be of great interest to fans of Tim Berne, Debris, Ken Vandermark, etc.


Track Listing: Not Very Pleasance/Perfect in the Pocket/Grampa's Function/Big Child on the Loose/Early Moring Futon Phantast/Splinter

Personnel: Vinny Golia-Sopranino, Tenor, Baritone and Saxophones, A and Contra-Alto Clarinets; Rob Blakeslee-Cornet, Trumpet and Flugelhorn; Nels Cline-Electric 6-string and Baritone Guitars; Joel Hamilton-bass; Alex Cline-Drums and Percussion

Title: Nation of Laws | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Nine Winds Records


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