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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rova & Nels Cline Singers - Celestial Septet (New World Records, 2010) ****

The Rova Quartet are Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones, Bruce Ackley on soprano and tenor saxophones, Steve Adams on alto and sopranino saxophones, Jon Raskin on baritone, alto and sopranino saxophones. The Nels Cline Singers are Nels Cline on guitar, Devin Hoff on bass and Scott Amendola on drums. Apart, these two bands already bring genre-bending music. Together, under the name of "Celestial Septet", they push the limits even further.

The album starts with one of the most magnificent compositions I have heard in a while. The title, César Chávez, refers to the founder of the American United Farm Workers Union. The piece, composed by Amendola, is at the same time sad, dark, intimate, menacing, overwhelming and magnificent. It is slow, with one sax playing the lead theme, and the three others playing in different layers around it, with the drums, bass and guitar creating a dark and gloomy backdrop : stunning! The second piece is of a different nature, more abstract, with odd rhythm and arrangements, somewhat quirky and fun. In the ensuing improvisations, the musicians manage to see this bizarre concept through, not an easy feat. The longest and central piece, "Whose To Know", is a tribute to Albert Ayler (again!), with a wealth of influences and concepts seamlessly evolving one into the other : it is rock, it is jazz, it is modern music: raw, sensitive, deep and rich, with in the middle of the piece an unbelievable cataclysm of saxophones screaming, and gradually shifting into bass and guitar minimalism, only to end in the most Ayleresque of fashions. The following piece sounds like a marching band in which a berserk John McLaughlin got lost. The last track, "The Buried Quilt", is an experimental composition by Nels Cline, eery and disorienting, with quiet moments alternating with thunder storms, yet ending as magnificently as the album begins.

You get the idea : lots of variation, maybe a little too much, but played by artists who like the broad sweeps of new musical ideas, broad adventurous brush strokes on a new and open canvas. Recommended.

The Nels Cline Singers - Initiate (Cryptogrammophone, 2010) ****

It rarely happens that I write a review on the day that the album is released, but well, it so happened that I had already planned the review above. Have I listened to it? Yes, I did. Have I listened enough to make a good judgment? Possibly not. But who cares? You are the judge, I merely point out what's new and worthwhile.

First impression : the trio pushes their own boundaries again, and get better at each time. In addition to the line-up mentioned above, Cline uses electronics, Hoff as well and switches to electric bass at times, Amendola plays mbira too and effects.

Second impression : lots of variation, from electric Miles fusion ("Floored"), to weird sonic soundscapes, including unusual almost choral background at times (on the fantastic "Divining"), to intimistic moments of quiet meditation on acoustic instruments ("Grow Closer"), electronic and industrial experiments ("Scissor/Saw"), cinematic pieces ("King Queen" - holding the middle between King Crimson and Santana!), hypnotic repetitive power play ("Mercy"), pure sonic soundscapes ("Into It"), wild and fascinating high tension energy ("Fly Fly").

The first CD is recorded in the studio, the second CD is a live performance, offering the same range of musical variation, and ending with a wild, long almost funky fusion work-out, with pounding drums, pumping bass, and scorching wah-wah pedal. 


Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef


Anonymous said...

I think the term "versatile musician" is little overused but man..Nels Cline sure is one. He can sound like Jim Hall one one track and then sound like a fusion guitarist the next one to go completely experimental on a track to follow. I think one reviewer somewhere go it right: there is no guitarist nowadays that cover more musical ground than Cline.

Stef said...

I agree. This album demonstrates it.