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.
Over the course of the more than 79 minutes of music here, Bendian's varied compositions reflect how he viewed Kirby and his oeuvre. Versatile as his comic book mentor, Bendian has in the past studied avant-classical percussion, dabbled in rock music and performed with such visionaries as Cecil Taylor and Derek Bailey. On disc, he has already celebrated some of his other primal influences including John Coltrane's duets with Rashied Ali, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and British ProgRockers Gentle Giant.
Sticking to vibes on this session, Bendian's chief effect is to use the dancing timbres that result from his metallic bars to reflect off the electric intensity of guitarist Nels Cline's contributions. At the same time, throughout, semi-classical echoes from Joel Hamilton's bowed bass usually vie with sparkling dance-like riffs from the same source to frame the compositions.
POMO effects abound as well, such as the J. Arthur Rank-style gong that commences "Air Above Zenn-LA". That Hammer Films scene setting soon gives way to steadily ascending musical motifs, with the sort of guitar licks, vibe suggestions and drum licks — from Cline's twin bother Alex — that is a version of atmospheric jazz. Knowing the hypnotic effect that repetition can produce, on the other hand, Bendian turns "Other Skylines" into a raucous jazz-rock fusion tune, with vibe tones in the place where guitar solos are usually featured.
Featuring deliberate forward motion, complete with stop time and accelerated sections, you wonder just how much of "Teaneck in the Marvel Age" is through composed. But, in a way, that hardly matters since Bendian's able to utilize his instrument's unique echoing effect to match and blend with the notes that soar from Cline's spacey guitar. There's still plenty of space left for other individual solos as well.
Both Clines are the models of restrain here, with Alex, a frequent sideman for reedman Vinny Golia's projects, showing on "The Mother Box" and "Primordial Ink" — to cite two examples — that you can mix a rock sensibility with improv chops. Rhythm is his business, not raunch and the wearisome hammering beat of most fusion excursions is blissfully absent.
Boasting a CD booklet filled with Jack Kirby illustrations, this requiem isn't doleful, but is instead a suite that is both visually and musically impressive.
DESTROY ALL NELS CLINE also has a title that could have been lettered in comic book script. But if Bendian's album could be likened to a superhero who joins others in the Justice League of America, Cline's is more like one of the denizens of the reverse Bizarro world who often challenged Superman.
Just like the jagged-faced, mutant superman who menaced the real man of steel, the Bizarro Nels Cline featured on his solo disc seems to have only a superficial resemblance to the collegial guitarist whose well-thought-out and executed solos contribute so much to the success of Bendian's Kirby CD.
Instead, this Cline seems to have been reprogrammed as some variation of a selfish guitar hero, with four other six-stringers on hand to add to the din. Rock style guitar grandstanding permeates every track to such an extent that even the atmospheric "As In Life" — honoring the recently deceased iconoclastic West Coast pianist Horace Tapscott — sounds as if it was performed in bombastic memory of Jimi Hendrix rather than Tapscott.
Throughout, Cline & Co. seem to be trying to reach an exalted sort of post-rock nirvana. But when they're not trying to force feed too many licks into an unsuspecting compositional line, they often end up as they do on "The Ringing Mind" producing repetitive, meandering fusion filler along the lines of what The Dixie Dregs or Al DiMeola turned out in the early 1980s. A little of this goes a long, long way.
Judging from his fine work on REQUIEM, no one is suggesting that Nels Cline be destroyed. But if you compare that disc with DESTROY, perhaps rethinking how he puts his solo outings together would be a good course of action.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Requiem: 1. Kirby's Fourth World 2. New Gods 3. The Mother Box 4. Teaneck in the Marvel Age 5. Primordial Ink 6. Air Above Zenn-LA 7. Other Skylines
Personnel: Requiem: Gregg Bendian (vibes); Nels Cline (guitar); Joel Hamilton (bass); Alex Cline (drums, percussion)
Track Listing: Destroy: 1. Spider Wisdom 2. Chi Cagoan 3. The Ringing Hand 4. Talk of the Chocolate Bed* 5. After Armenia^ 6. Progression 7. As In Life* 8. Friends of Snowman* 9. Martyr*^
Personnel: Destroy: Nels Cline, Woodward Lee Aplanalp, G.E. Stinson (electric guitars); Bob Mair (electric guitar, electric bass guitar); Carla Bozulich (electric guitar, sampling keyboard); Zeena Parkins (electric harp)*; Wayne Peet (d6 clarinet, fake mellotron)^; Alex Cline (drums, percussion)