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Nels Cline: Acoustic Guitar Trio & Gauci/Cline/Filiano/Pride

Clifford Allen By

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Acoustic Guitar Trio
Vignes
Long Song Records
2009


Stephen Gauci/Nels Cline/Ken Filiano/Mike Pride
Red Feast
Cadence Jazz Records
2009


Guitarist Nels Cline is so recognized as a force in contemporary music because he's not really a "force". In other words, his considerable technique, taste and penchant for cross-genre blurs don't always take the spotlight. Rather, he is a group musician in the truest sense of the phrase. Two recent recordings—one from the archives of the Acoustic Guitar Trio (with Jim McAuley and the late Rod Poole), the other a quartet with tenor man Stephen Gauci, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Mike Pride—aren't so much a stroke of singular vision, but they each owe something to egalitarianism and Cline's presence.

The Acoustic Guitar Trio is more talked about than heard, recast in light and returning to regular mention following the untimely 2007 death of Rod Poole, the guitar wizard, cultural maven and just-intonation improviser. The trio recorded one album that was released in 2002 on Incus and until now, that was all the record-buying public had. Vignes was taped in 2003 at LA's Downtown Playhouse and the set consists of three collective improvisations on which the instruments are approached physically using techniques like playing behind the bridge, at the head, pattering the hollow body or bowing the strings. That said, the music contained here can be strikingly melodic even as it doesn't follow traditional tunings or sounds one expects from the instruments. The opening improvisation begins with throaty alap, Cline and Poole stretching out huge chords on either side of McAuley's muted flecks. A dustbowl raga starts to emerge, rhythmic minimalism and lush overtones painting a canvas that's layered with sounds born of equal parts Robbie Basho and pianistic preparation. The trio hits a "new day dawning" overture about halfway, then waves subside into thwacks, stabs and rattles atop Poole's repeating microtonal plink. It is safe to say that Vignes is a window onto a sound-world many have never thought possible and its balance of personalities and highly individual direction make it a paean for the three-sided whole.

Red Feast is a set of five free improvisations for tenor, guitar, bass and drums, on paper drawing similarities to Cline's first recording date (Vinnie Golia's Openhearted, Nine Winds, 1979). Gauci has a loose, laconic sound on the tenor, but that's not to say it isn't equally hard-bitten and bracing, with appropriations from his post-Trane forbears that seem lived, not taught. On "Charnel Ground," the landscape is mired in electronics, nearly burying reedy yelps with high-pitched scrape and fuzzed, glitchy spikes. The final third of the piece finds Gauci, Filiano and Pride stretching out in long-legged free-bop; Cline re-enters in arpeggiated midrange runs and tugs on Pride's delineated time. One hears a more wiry Wes Montgomery peal out from the driveway, only to return to grubby, distorted blues a moment later. The title track begins with a Gauci-Cline duet, a twisted take on Gary Foster and Dennis Budimir, toying with gauze that barely soaks up the blood. Red Feast exceeds expectations for a first-time conflagration.


Tracks and Personnel

Vignes

Tracks: Vignes 1; Vignes 2; Vignes 3.

Personnel: Nels Cline, Jim McAuley and Rod Poole: acoustic guitars and preparations.

Red Feast

Tracks: Escape from the Hell Realms; Charnel Ground; Red Feast; Blue Tara; Like a Madman beyond All Limits.

Personnel: Stephen Gauci: tenor saxophone; Nels Cline: electric guitar and electronics; Ken Filiano: bass and electronics; Mike Pride: drums.


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