With the release of this album by The Nels Cline Singers, Detroit's Mack Avenue Records takes a bold leap into the outer fringes of jazz. Their impressive slate of artists already included the likes of Kenny Garrett
, Sean Jones
and Christian McBride
, who are open to pushing jazz boundaries, but the label had no one who goes as far afield as guitarist Cline. In fact, it's probably best to think of Cline, whether leading the Singers or any of his other projects, as approaching
jazz rather than moving outward from it (Cline, himself, has said he is not a jazz musician), plowing in from a sonic space where rock- centric guitar riffs mash with a heady garble of electronic noise, loops, dance rhythms, screeching metal lines and hummable melodies. The marvel always with listening to Cline is how well the highly textured barrage works as musicand not just, or even primarily, on an intellectual levelconjuring a head-bopping forward momentum that trains the pulse to keep swinging even through the strangest passages of electronic rattling.
For this, their fifth release, The Nels Cline Singers shuffle their core trio a bit and bring in a handful of guest musicians to expand the sonic mayhem. Cline and drummer Scott Amendola
remain, but are joined here by bassist Trevor Dunn
, who replaces the group's original bassist, Devin Hoff
, plus keyboardist Yuka C. Honda, of Cibo Matto fame, percussionists Cyro Baptista
and Josh Jones
, and harpist Zeena Parkins
Most of the tracks are kept to lengths that once would have been labeled "radio- friendly" (only three crack the six-minute mark with "Seven Zed Heaven" alone pushing beyond ten minutes), helping to keep the momentum up as the Singers move from wordless song to wordless song (scenes, in a highly visual music). The opening track, "Companion Piece," grows from a relaxed melody. The second, "Canales' Cabeza," tips off from powerful riffs in hard-bop fashion. Both shoot forward along increasingly urgent lines with the group's sound layering into one so big and enveloping it belies the trio formatit's a pattern (whether with hefty or more subtle crescendo) that repeats across the album.
The guests join in on "Respira," nicely fracturing the scape with metal, skin and electronic percussion. Cline's voice drones alongside ringing guitar chords or soars ethereally over them, channeling the aesthetics of Pat Metheny
groups past and present. (This is the first time the Singers have threatened to live up to their name by shading a couple pieces with prominent vocal coloring: Cline's voice forms a leavening bridge to a whirring island of volcanic action on "Respira," then moans low alongside acoustic guitar lines on "Macroscopic," wading into a web of Amendola's electronic clatter. "Hairy Mother," an alarming tangle of prickly electric fuzz, twined by heavy-metal guitar lines, features a type of electronic screaming that truly amps the song's frayed, nightmare character.)
Since this is a Nels Cline album there are, of course, guitar solos of blistering beauty. But these moments are but part of an organic progression of an ever- roiling music, a highly reactive science experiment that might generate searing fuzz guitar from undulating beats ("Red Before Orange") or rise in a back-spinning psychedelic echo ("The Wedding Band") that replicates into an annihilating vortex of amplified noise.
The album closes with "Sascha's Book of Frogs," a rough-edged piece that takes considerable breaths between its moments of chaos, its bright and harried guitar, blasting drums and other percussive weirdness, plucked and bowed bass. The halting number has the feel of a music blowing the last toxins from its veins. But when it suddenly stops, bringing an abrupt, unresolved end to the album, it positions Macroscope
as but a slice of a much larger, ongoing experiment. For if the album's titleand, indeed, the Large Hadron Collider artwork that graces the group's previous effort, Initiate
(Cryptogramophone, 2010)tells us anything, it's that the Nels Cline Singers have no intention of conducting themselves in small, confining ways.
Companion Piece; Canales’ Cabeza; Respira; Red Before Orange; The Wedding Band;
Macroscopic; Climb Down; Seven Zed Heaven; Hairy Mother; Sascha’s Book of Frogs.
Nels Cline: guitars, effects, voice, Quintronics Drum Buddy; Scott Amendola: drums,
percussion, electronic treatments/loops, mbira; Trevor Dunn: basses, effects; Yuka C.
electric piano, OP-1; Cyro Baptista: percussion universe; Josh Jones: congas, other
percussion; Zeena Parkins: electric harp.