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Nels Cline's Blue Mitt Ensemble Enchants Cryptonight

Rex  Butters By

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Cryptonight at Club Tropical took a holiday sleigh ride with Nels Cline's Blue Mitt Ensemble, or more accurately a toboggan ride. Guitarist/composer Cline's feverish brain finished writing a Peter Pan suite on Monday, and after a couple rehearsals the Blue Mitt Ensemble mounted the piece to an appreciative crowd. The BME expanded to include sonic adventurer Jeremy Drake, bringing the group's number of guitarists up to three. Drake's acoustic Guild yielded more sound surprises than a well-tempered synthesizer. His ever-expanding trans-tonal vocabulary grows, as does his sense of usage. Fellow string-bender Noah Phillips worked more closely with Cline, often playing unisons or participating in close arrangements. Also adept at extended techniques, Phillips moved from clear chords to atmospheric noise with ease. Jessica Catron frequently maintained a linear continuity on cello, but would not be denied the fun of freedom. Percussionist Alex Cline worked with cymbals chimes, handheld prayer drums, and gongs to perfectly shade each phase of the pieces performed. As conductor, performer, and coach during team huddles, Nels directed the ensemble and busily stomped a battery of effects boxes to create magical adventurous music.

After Cline's hasty intro, Catron set the mood with a portentous solo cello. Noah and Nels chord together with Alex sweeping cymbals under their feet. Drake paints sounds and textures, as Catron's cello remains steady as the breathing of the child dreaming of Pan. Phillips and Cline join Jeremy creating expanded sound. Noah plied his strings with a small rotating device that created a rapid pulsing wave on his strings. Drake used a small bow and damped strings for long tones. Alex dragged the butt of his stick on a held cymbal to contribute metallic shouts. After a zesty group improv, Nels cues with a quiet chord that he repeats to anchor the next movement. Catron plays startling amplified phrases. She holds long tones to underline Alex exploring cymbals. Nels blasts distortion, Drake and Phillips return the volley. Alex runs chains over cymbals, and soon feedback, skronk, and noise engulf the band.

As the sound simmers down, Alex threads ropes with bells over his forearms. Nels blows some tender chords. Phillips joins and as they mesh Nels drops into a two chord change. Phillips takes a thoughtful single note walk. Alex locks into Nels rhythm with mallets on a giant horizontal bass drum. Phillips solo melds into the riff Nels and Drake play, but that storm passes. In the ensuing quiet, Alex plays small chimes and Carton's cello sings a beautiful lullaby. Cline and Phillips adorn it, and Drake adds subtle muted bumps for a finale that slips off into the next dream.

After a brief intermission, the band resumed their positions. With no introduction, Drake and Catron create sounds that rise from ambient to dominate as the room settled. Cline and Phillips play a tune, and Alex plays small cymbals balanced on the bass drum's head. He uses strings of castanets, and by the time he's using mallets, Nels and Noah experiment with effects boxes. Meanwhile, Drake generates original sounds and Alex attacks with sticks. Noah, Nels, and Jessica join Drake with extended techniques. Noah and Nels blister some fast runs, then lay back for Alex with Drake and Catron seasoning the sound. Alex pushes cymbals into the drum to mold their sound, until Nels calls it with a chord.

Finally, Jeremy and Jessica bow sustained notes as Nels and Noah buzz and drone with feedback, creating a deep rumble. They evolve a majestic riff, and repeat it until it becomes hypnotic. Even Nels rocks back and forth, eyes closed, entranced. Alex keeps his drums brushed.

The Blue Mitt Ensemble played music as bracing and fresh as the chill winter's night wind hitting my face leaving the Tropical.

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