Reviews that mention Nels Cline

May 13, 2021

Julius Hemphill The Boyé Multi-national Crusade for Harmony

Archive Recordings 1997-2007
NewWorld Records 80825-2:

Various Artists

Not Two …but Twenty Festival

NotTwo MW 1000-2

Something in the Air: Sophisticatedly Curated Box Sets Collate and Disseminate Important Music

By Ken Waxman

Assembled since the first significant 78s were collected in one package, the boxed set has traditionally been used to celebrate important anniversaries or extensive projects. CD collections are the same with these improvised music sets aurally illuminating various programs. MORE

April 23, 2021

Huntsville + Yuka Honda, Nels Cline, Darin Gray & Glenn Kotche

Bow Shoulder
Hubro HUBRO CD 2620

Recorded in 2010, but not released until now, Bow Shoulder is the product of mutual admiration for each others’ inventive playing by member of Norway’s Huntsville – string player Ivar Grydeland, bassist Tonny Kluften and percussionist Ingar Zach – with two members of Wilco – guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche – plus Chicago bassist Darin Gray and Cibo Matto keyboardist Yuka Honda.

Purely improvised, the four tracks are much more than merely adding together familiar sound tropes from each musician. Vibrations, drones, electronic whizzes, percussion clouts and unexpected stroked augmentation produce an enticing mix that’s solid, stirring and ultimately specific. As string textures undulate, fluid expression bends to meet every eventuality. Meanwhile relaxed folksy strums arise from the pedal steel, as banjo twangs, concentrated 12-string guitar energy and thin plinks that suggest the Chinese duxianqin. While a track like “Side Wind” is more rhythmic than the others, keyboard undulation and waves of programmed electronics maintain a bonding tone that links the sound to jam bands rather than jam sessions. But the Rock-ambient reflections don’t simplify the interface into psychedelic sludge. Preventing sameness and adding differently pitched timbres as tracks move from allegro to presto, and tones augment and descend are particular instance of slurred fingering and ringing chords from the guitarists, tabla pops, metallic echoes and Mylar rubs from the percussionists and fluid bass underscoring. Breaking away from the undifferentiated, squirming sound mass which defines earlier tracks, the concluding “The Unshot” mercurially vamps back and forth between a blend of country-styled string echoes and resonating percussion clacks to reach an unshackled dissolve. MORE

November 1, 2020


Radical Empathy
Relative Pitch RPR 1041


Gowanus Sessions II

ESP 5038

Final sequences in a trio project involving guitarist Nels Cline and keyboardist Thollem McDonas that has spanned the decade and four record labels, Gowanus Sessions II and Radical Empathy could almost be entitled The Two Sides of Thollem.

For the peripatetic McDonas, who has played with everyone from Michael Snow to Gino Robair during years of seemingly never-ending gigging in North America and Europe, sticks to the acoustic piano on Gowanus Sessions II, but shows up with an audio laboratory’s worth of electronics and keyboards on Radical Empathy. Cline, known for his membership in Wilco, but a long-time sound explorer with the likes of Vinny Golia, sticks to guitar and effects on both discs. The agility needed to intersect in an acoustic or electronic session also necessitates adding two different third partners. Veteran drummer Michael Wimberly, who has worked with Louie Belogenis and Charles Gayle is on the electronic set, while bassist William Parker, who has played with almost every major improviser is on the acoustic date. MORE

November 1, 2020


Gowanus Sessions II
ESP 5038


Radical Empathy

Relative Pitch RPR 1041

Final sequences in a trio project involving guitarist Nels Cline and keyboardist Thollem McDonas that has spanned the decade and four record labels, Gowanus Sessions II and Radical Empathy could almost be entitled The Two Sides of Thollem.

For the peripatetic McDonas, who has played with everyone from Michael Snow to Gino Robair during years of seemingly never-ending gigging in North America and Europe, sticks to the acoustic piano on Gowanus Sessions II, but shows up with an audio laboratory’s worth of electronics and keyboards on Radical Empathy. Cline, known for his membership in Wilco, but a long-time sound explorer with the likes of Vinny Golia, sticks to guitar and effects on both discs. The agility needed to intersect in an acoustic or electronic session also necessitates adding two different third partners. Veteran drummer Michael Wimberly, who has worked with Louie Belogenis and Charles Gayle is on the electronic set, while bassist William Parker, who has played with almost every major improviser is on the acoustic date. MORE

April 13, 2020

Radical Empathy Trio

Reality and Other Imaginary Places
ESP 5035

Joe Morris/Evan Parker

The Village

Fundacja Słucha FSR 13/2019

Gordon Grdina

Nomad Trio

Skirl Records 044



BMC CD 257

Marcelo de Reis/Valentin Ceccaldi/Marco Franco/Luis Vincente


MultiKulti Project MPSMT 016

Something in the Air: Forging a Guitar Identity in Improvised Music

By Ken Waxman

September 12, 2019

Ben Goldberg

Good Day for Cloud Fishing
Pyroclastic PRO 5

Simon Nabatov

Readings Gileya Revisited

Leo CD LR 856

Big Tent

I Am Waiting

NotTwo MW 989-2


Who Has Seen the Wind?

Songlines SGL 1629-2

Horace Tapscott/Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra/Great Voice of UGMAA

Why Don’t You Listen?

Dark Tree DT (RS) 11

Something in the Air: Adapting Poetry to Jazz and Vice Versa

By Ken Waxman

Although the sentiment conjured up by the phrase Poetry and Jazz is of scruffy beatniks intoning verse to the accompaniment of a stoned bongo player, the intersection of poetry and improvised music has a longer history. As far back as the 1920s poets like Langston Hughes integrated jazz energy into their work and subsequent interaction involved whole groups of literary and musical types, with notable instances in San Francisco, Liverpool and Vancouver up until the present day. Some of the discs here extend the idea of sounds complementing words, while others work on the more difficult task of integrating both elements. MORE

July 29, 2019


Exits into a Corridor
Hubro HUBROCD2618

Møster, Parker, Abrams & Herndon

Ran Do

Clean Feed CF 457 CD

A Norwegian saxophonist playing in a quartet including an American guitarist plus bass and drums could produce CDs that are mirror images of one another. Instead there’s very little to link Exits into a Corridor and Ran Do except personnel. For a start the five tracks on Exits into a Corridor were all composed by Norwegian bassist Rune Nergaard who is in as many local combos such as Bushman's Revenge, as fellow young Norwegian saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, known for his work with Cortex. Americans, drummer Jim Black and sometime Wilco guitarist Nels Cline fill out the group and everyone plays in a style that much closer to excessive Rock dynamics than slippery Jazz improvisations. Those other elements are most obvious on Ran Do’s five instance compositions. Here the saxophonist is Norwegian Kjetil Møster, the guitarist Jeff Parker, member both of the AACM and Isotope 217, while the other Chicagoans on board are bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer John Herndon from the Exploding Star Orchestra and Tortoise. MORE

June 6, 2015

Bobby Previte

Cantaloupe Music CA 21102

By Ken Waxman

This isn’t the Bobby Previte of The Voodoo Orchestra North or his gigs with Charlie Hunter. Instead Terminals features the drummer as composer of concertos for the Sō Percussion ensemble, each of which features a different improvising soloist. With a formal structure these lengthy pieces rise or fall depending on the improviser’s skills. Luckily the odds are better than average.

Since the four-member Sō ensemble plays a percussion factory’s inventory of drums, cymbals, vibes, bells and nearly every other idiophone, “Terminal 4” which features Previte is rather like distinguishing the silhouette of a black cat on a dark night. By mid-point though, Previte crucially makes his presence felt by consolidating everyone’s clanks, clunks and whacks into approximation of what could be termed modern jazz. Conversely “Terminal 1” suffers from a peculiar drawback. Until electric harpist Zeena Parkins asserts herself, tugging gritty glissandi into approximations of electric guitar runs, the weighty history of her instrument nearly makes the proceedings too formal. With precise mallet pops and drum beats merely accompanying her sweep, she’s forced to use electric processes to move the piece into a freer space. MORE

April 12, 2015

Ben Goldberg

Orphic Machine
BAG Productions BAG 007

Ananda Gari


Auand Records AU 9041

Tineke Postma

Sonic Halo

Challenge Records CR 73370

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York


Libra Records 215-036

SITA: Cutting-Edge Free Improvisation at The Music Gallery

By Ken Waxman

Major improvisers from elsewhere frequently play Toronto, but not as often do they appear with an all-star line-up. That’s what happens on April 29 when alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil is in concert at The Music Gallery. Berne, who has been on the cutting edge of advanced jazz for 30-odd years, arrives with three younger players who have distinguished themselves on the New York scene: fellow reedist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith. This being the 21th Century and past the age of consistently working groups, each – including Berne – is involved in many other projects. MORE

February 11, 2014

Ben Goldberg

Unfold Ordinary Mind
BAG Productions BAG 004

Ben Goldberg

Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues

BAG Productions BAG 003

By Ken Waxman

Bay area clarinetist Ben Goldberg has a consistent vision. The evidence is in how these two sessions, which were recorded four years apart but released simultaneously, don’t reveal any startling stylistic differences. The main divergence between 2008’s Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues and 2012’s Unfold Ordinary Mind is that different casts create different emphasis. MORE

January 8, 2014

Artist Feature:

Ben Goldberg
By Ken Waxman

When Bay area clarinetist Ban Goldberg describes the creative process that constantly compels him to compose new music and seek out new collaborators, he sounds like the partner in a love affair: “When I hear someone I like, I have to play music with him or her. I need that person in my life.”

It may take a while after that first infatuation, but eventually Goldberg composes music which turns this attraction into reality. For instance the genesis of Unfold Ordinary Mind, one of his recent CDs, was the result of hearing tenor saxophone Ellery Eskelin and having a vision of having Eskelin playing alongside tenor saxophonist Rob Sudduth, a long-time Goldberg associate. “It’s a palpable feeling I have of how the music will sound,” he relates. That group, filled out by drummer Ches Smith and guitarist Nels Cline, plays NYU’s Law Space this month as part of the Winter Jazz Fest; and with pianist Craig Taborn in place of Cline will be part of an extended Goldberg residency at the Stone in February. New Yorkers can also experience Goldberg in a unique January setting at Roulette, as one of four bass clarinetists in pianist Kris Davis’ octet. The reed man, who has never played with either Davis or Taborn before, says he looks forward to the challenges. “It’s scary in the right way,” he affirms. MORE

June 23, 2013

Ben Goldberg

Unfold Ordinary Mind
BAG Productions BAG 004

Ben Goldberg

Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues

BAG Productions BAG 003

Keeping too much of a low profile, Bay area-based clarinetist Ben Goldberg hasn’t released many CDs under his own name for the past several years. He finally confirms his compositional and improvisational heft with these two sessions, recorded four years apart but released simultaneously.

In truth Goldberg, who often works in the Tin Hat group and with pianist Myra Melford, is so consistent in his vision that there aren’t any startling stylistic differences between 2008’s Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues and Unfold Ordinary Mind from last year. The main divergence is the sonic colors provided by the sidemen, although steady drummer Ches Smith makes both dates. MORE

June 13, 2013


The Gowanus Session
Porter Records PRCD -4068

By Ken Waxman

Turning the discreet piano-guitar-bass formation on its head are the energetic and ardent improvisations of pianist Thollem McDonas, bassist William Parker and guitarist Nels Cline. One listen to the stabbing keyboard runs, thick double bass rhythms and guitar distortions exposed during The Gowanus Session’s six selections destroys the polite-jazz label that was created for such lounge-favored trios with this instrumentation as Nat “King” Cole’s and Oscar Peterson’s in the ‘40s and ‘50s. MORE

October 7, 2012

Festival Report

The Guelph Jazz Festival
By Ken Waxman

A spectre was haunting the 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF), but it was a benign spectre: the ghost of John Coltrane. The influence of Coltrane, who died in 1967, was honored in direct and indirect ways throughout the five days of the festival which takes places annually in this mid-sized college town, 100 kilometres west of Toronto.

This year’s edition (September 5 to 9), featured two live performances of Ascension, Coltrane’s free jazz masterwork from 1965, one with the original instrumentation by an 11-piece Toronto ensemble at the local arts centre; the other on the main stage of the soft-seated River Run Centre concert hall featured the Bay-area ROVA saxophone’s quartet reimaging of the work, scored for 12 musicians adding strings and electronics to the basic ensemble. MORE

December 24, 2010


echo arches & eras
Rune Grammofon RCD 2079

Heaven And

Bye And Bye I'm Going to See the King

Staubgold 98 CD

Plowing a furrow in between Rock and Jazz, without resorting to the pyrotechnics of Fusion are two European ensembles with unbeatable improv cred, dedicated to trying out groove-and-electronica-based material.

Norway’s Huntsville, is a trio consisting of multi-string instrumentalists Ivar Grydeland, percussionist Ingar Zach and bassist Tonny Kluften, with all usually found it the company of sound explorers such as trumpeter Axel Dörner and synthesizer player Thomas Lehn. Similarly often-involved in reductionist improv are Heaven And member guitarist Martin Siewert, in Trapist with bassist Joe Williamson, and drummer Steve Heather in efzeg with guitarists Burkhard Stangl. Heather’s fellow Aussie-in-Berlin, drummer Tony Buck is best-known for his long-time membership in The Necks, as well as microtonal playing with pianist Magda Mayas. Meanwhile bassist zeitblom – whose allegiance to lower-case sounds extends to his name – was initially a member of the avant-rock band Sovetskoe Foto, and has collaborated with figures such as guitarist Fred Frith and turntablist Christian Fennesz. MORE

July 8, 2010

ROVA & Nels Cline Singers

The Celestial Septet
New World Records NW 80708-2

A prime – and rare – case of parts actually adding up to a more impressive whole, The Celestial Septet joins two independently functioning improvising units into a first-class ensemble. Although both California-based ensembles, ROVA and the Nels Cline Singers, create impressive programs on their own, referencing sounds ranging from Energy Music to Noise Rock, this nearly 69-minute CD is open ended enough to provide a superlative environment for each band’s enhanced creativity. MORE

May 27, 2010

Wadada Leo Smith

Spiritual Dimensions
Cuneiform Rune 290/291

During a career that stretches from the mid-1960s, Mississippi-born trumpeter and educator Wadada Leo Smith has never followed one path. A founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), Smith – who excelled at playing acoustic music with stylists such as reedist Anthony Braxton and drummer Günter Baby Sommer, has also become comfortable with electric instruments, most notably in the Yo Miles! project with guitarist Henry Kaiser.

However while accepting the strictures affiliated with thicker beats and electricity Smith also doesn’t kowtow to any accepted formula. Plugged-in wave forms are used in his compositions and performances exactly in the same fashion as acoustic timbres. Take this impressive two-CD set as an example. On the first disc, the percussion input is doubled, making what formerly was a Golden quartet a quintet; while on disc two, with the Organic ensemble, the string section includes not only bass, electric bass and cello, but also features at least three and sometimes four electric guitarists. MORE

April 17, 2006


Strange Attractors SAAH 039

An outstanding example of the merge between intelligent hard rock and energy music that many claim, but few can pull off, the Cline-Shoup-Corsano trio combines the best impulses from the improv and big beat worlds and wrap them into one concentrated slab of power.

Individually each player has a reputation for forthright improvising from his home base, but improvising together in a first-ever trio manifestation raises the ante that much higher. Los Angeles-based guitarist Nels Cline, of course, has a long history of work with multi-reedman Vinny Golia, and is now a member of Wilco. Seattle-based alto saxophonist Wally Shoup has played with improvisers such as bassist Ruben Radding as well as Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore. Youngest of the three, Massachusetts-based drummer Chris Corsano is a regular playing partner of uncompromising saxophonist Paul Flaherty. MORE

March 13, 2006


Live at Al’s Bar
Pfmentum PFMCD027

Probably better-known for the exceptional engineering job he does on many Nine Winds releases, Los Angles-based Wayne Peet is also a keyboardist of note, gigging with different bands led by multi-reedist Vinny Golia and trumpeter’s Jeff Kaiser’s large Ockodektet.

But LIVE AT AL’S BAR is something else again – three extended jams featuring Peet on organ, present Wilco member Nels Cline on one guitar, former Shadowfax founder G.E. Smith on the other, backed by the heavy-handed drumming of studio pro Russell Bizzett, who has accompanied everyone from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and pop-folkster José Feliciano as well as provided rhythms for TV fare like “The Laverne & Shirley Show” and “Northern Exposure”. MORE

October 10, 2005


Electric Ascension
Atavistic ALP159CD

Giving the symbolic finger to the museum-quality preservationists who make up most of jazz repertory companies, Rova, the Bay Area sax quartet, has audaciously created its own version of “Ascension”, John Coltrane’s seminal work from 1965. Then as further nose-thumbing to the crowd that prefers polite Duke Ellington or Miles Davis-Gil Evans style recreations, the band plus eight helpmates, has conflated the piece still further into a noise and electronic extravaganza.

What’s more, this is the second time the Rova crew has honored “Ascension”. In 1995, adding a rhythm section and additional stellar soloists such as trumpeter Raphe Malik and the late tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman, the band created a lengthy acoustic version of Trane’s original suite. Still convinced that “Ascension” is a master work that deserves to be played even more often, Rova members Larry Ochs and Jon Raskin decided on another go round, radically changing the instrumentation without losing the composition’s essence. MORE

July 24, 2005


The Entire Time
Nine Winds NWCD 0259

Fancy Meeting You Here
Nine Winds NWCD 0224

Unforced collaborations between friends, these duo sessions illuminate the tactical differences needed when approaching any one-on-one free music interaction. Palpably, the strategy involves more than a categorical acknowledgement that one of the multi-reed master Vinny Golia’s partners is a pianist; the other a guitarist.

In spite of everything after all, both are chordal players faced with Golia’s stack of horns, which in pianist Rick Helzer’s case includes soprillo, sopranino, soprano, tenor and bass saxophones, saxello and contra bass flute, and on the CD with guitarist Alex Cline, introduce curved soprano, soprano and tenor saxophones, alto flute, bass clarinet, stritch, saxophone, xiao and dzi. MORE

July 12, 2004


One, Three, Two
Jazz’halo TS018/19

Recorded at three different concerts in Belgium on September 12, 13 and 15, 2001, ONE, THREE, TWO is a creditable quintet session, which, considering the date, not surprisingly lacks some of the go-for-broke energy multi-reedist Vinny Golia brings to many of his other discs.

Still the cohesion of the band is evident on the 11 Golia compositions written expressly for this instrumentation, that are spread over two CDs with almost 2½ hours of music. However, a combination of ennui regarding the situation in the United States, and concert necessities, which seems to necessitate contributions from each musician on nearly every tune, means that some pieces and solos are overly extended. Considering that Golia had been playing with brothers, guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Alex Cline since 1976, expressive trombonist Michael Vlatkovich since 1981 and bassist Scott Walton for at least five years at that point, no sound is less than thoroughgoing professional, though. And many of the pieces are outright exciting. MORE

February 24, 2003


Cryptogramophone CG 116

Designed as a major socio-political statement, CRY, the new album by Bay area percussionist Scott Amendola involves much more than the jam band/jazz-funk tunes with which he made his reputation with T.J. Kirk and in guitarist Charlie Hunter’s Band.

Pointedly “inspired” by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, according to the back cover, the drummer has included the spiritual “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” among the pieces performed. Additionally, some of the other tunes, all written and arranged by Amendola, could have similar metaphoric meanings. “Rosa”, a relaxed, lightweight ballad may be inspired by Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks; “A Cry for John Brown” is no doubt directed towards the famous abolitionist; while “Bantu” and “Streetbeat” suggest that the disc may be trying to connect to the so-called urban (ahem) underclass. Finally, should we hear “My Son, the Wanderer” with its allusion to Allan Sherman’s “My Son The Folksinger” LP, as a confirmation that the percussionist has a message he wants to get across. Is CRY actually a jazz-folk-rock CD? MORE

February 22, 2002


Cryptogramophone 112

Perhaps this CD could be called Revenge Of The Pros. That’s because all of these California-based musicians have extensive experience working on commercial pop, funk and contemporary jazz dates as well as for film and TV soundtracks. This band however allows them to play their own music.

The problem is, that while the sounds here are heartfelt and obviously technically impeccable, they’re also much “prettier” than you would expect on a jazz date. Not that jazz necessarily has to be “ugly” to be hip, which is itself an outmoded concept, but when the Goatette’s twin touchstones seem to be modal-style impressionism on one hand and showy jazz rock on the other something has to suffer. MORE

August 13, 2001


Requiem for Jack Kirby
Atavistic ALP 125CD


Destroy All Nels Cline
Atavistic ALP 122CD

Just as an earlier generation of musicians wrote original compositions honoring visual artists who particularly impressed them -- tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins' "Picasso" tribute comes first to mind -- so younger players are venerating their heroes instrumentally as well.

POMO sensibilities being what they are though, the focus of Gregg Bendian's homage CD isn't one of the hard-edged painters hymned by the likes of Archie Shepp or Steve Lacy. Instead it's Jack Kirby (1917-1994), the comic book author and illustrator whose creations such as The Silver Surfer, The Hulk, Spiderman and The Fantastic Four meant a lot more to the young percussionist than any museum-certified artist. MORE