Serious fans of guitar may have heard of both Nels Cline
and Julian Lage
, but many listeners more likely know only one or the other of these guitar giants. The two innovators have very different styles and sounds. Cline is known primarily for his work with Wilco
and Nels Cline Singers
, where his compositions function as experimental explorations and push boundaries in many ways; even more so his solo improvisations, which heavily incorporate electronic sounds and unconventional uses of the guitar. Lage, conversely, is known for his technical mastery of the instrument and his very guitar based sound, which some have suggested evoke, aside from the obvious jazz, Americana music such as folk and bluegrass. Lage is also known for being a prodigy, and at just 26 years old is one of the most successful guitarists playing today.
These differences only make their pairing on Room
(Mack Avenue, 2014) more exciting to listen to, and although they may have different backgrounds and styles, they are both more than familiar with playing in a duo setting; Cline has played with Vinny Golia
, Elliot Sharp
and Eric Von Essen, to whom the beautiful "Whipers from Eve" is dedicated, while Lage has played with John Abercrombie
, Taylor Eigsti
and recently released a highly acclaimed duo recording with Fred Hersch
. Their familiarity with the unique demands of such an intimate setting make Room
stand out as a highly effective, if somewhat unexpected, pairing.
A mix of Cline originals and collaborative compositions, the exploratory spirit that defines Cline's work is prominent on Room
, even though the aesthetic is always just two guitars, electric or acoustic, and no effects. Exemplified by tracks like "Waxman," whose explorations of harmonic colors, timbres and intriguing dissonances is a remarkable sonic journey, and "Racy," with its tightly arranged and percussive lines opening up into freer improvised solos and accompaniment, the musicianship of the two guitarists allows them to take every tune to a number of unexpected and exciting places. It's not just harmonies and textures that the compositions explore either; on tunes like the aptly named "Odd End" odd meters are used as a thematic device and as a source of seemingly endless creative inspiration.
Each track has its own character, but the entire album is permeated by the two guitarists' inventiveness and sensitive accompanying ability. These strengths really stand out in longer tracks such as "The Scent of Light" and "Freesia/The Bond." These tunes showcase the performers' ability to tell a compelling story by supporting and feeding off of each other's ideas. These tunes have some truly beautiful moments, and tracks like the closing "Calder" are dedicated almost entirely to drawing out the remarkably beautiful moments that can come from the guitar duo setting.