The Upshot: A masterstroke solo project from the Wilco (and Geraldine Fibber, and Mike Watt) guitar maestro.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Though Nels Cline has long been an indie/alt.rock guitar star (mainly with Wilco, but before that with the Geraldine Fibbers and Mike Watt), he had at least a decade’s worth of work in a jazz frame before that. That’s hardly news, but it seems like it’s been only lately that his ongoing work in that realm has gotten the attention his rock work has. Cue Currents, Constellations, his first album (and second for jazz powerhouse Blue Note) with the Nels Cline 4. Joined by bassist Scott Colley, drummer Tom Rainey and guitarist Julian Lage, Cline sublimates (not eliminates) his rockist tendencies, leaving the distortion and piles of effects he wields with his jazz/rock power trio the Nels Cline Singers in the closet for now.
That doesn’t mean the tracks on this record are easy listening, however. “Furtive” opens with a jittery rhythm and nervous lines that well illustrate the title. “Imperfect 10” gives the two six-stringers a spiraling, sharp-edged melody to play off, letting them circle around each other like a pair of lions who never pounce on their prey. “Amenette” uses bebop as a springboard for some dueling lines that exploit discord without crossing over into noise. “Temporarily” flits about the melody, sometimes landing on it directly, sometimes swirling about like butterflies around flowers. “Swing Ghost ‘59” does indeed swing, but within the context of a fractured tune that’s more thorny than danceable. On the other hand, the lovely ballad “As Close As That” offers a breath-catching moment, and the atmospheric epic “River Mouth (Parts 1 & 2)” really takes advantage of Cline and Lage’s abilities to mold an appealing theme into new shapes without affecting accessibility.
Cline and Lage work well together (not unexpectedly, given their duo album from a couple of years ago), with Cline both reigning himself in to keep from overwhelming his colleague and pushing Lage to color outside the lines more often than the young guitarist does in his solo work. Colley and Rainey provide a solid foundation, but also add their own accents to the rhythms without losing time. Constructed of the right tunes performed by the right players and led by the right(eous) guy, Currents, Constellations is a masterstroke.
DOWNLOAD: “Imperfect 10,” “Furtive,” “River Mouth (Parts 1 & 2)”