Over the course of the recent Easter
weekend, I was lucky enough to have caught Wilco perform at the recently
restored Wellmont Theatre in beautiful Montclair,
NJ. Needless to say, it had been
a while since I saw these guys onstage. And by witnessing the band live for the
first time since 2004, I was reminded why Tweedy & Co.
remain one of the most amazing live acts in American rock: Nels Cline.
Since coming aboard as the Chicago band’s lead
guitarist in early 2004, this veteran of the experimental jazz movement has
been paramount in enhancing the excitement of the Wilco stage show with his
uncanny knowledge of every nook and cranny of his guitar, amplifier and loaded
L-shaped rack of effects pedals. As he has proven for over 30 years as a
professional musician, recording and touring with the likes of Mike Watt, the
Geraldine Fibbers, jazz bassist Charlie Haden and members of Sonic Youth, the
sounds that emit from his strings are alien and astounding. And whether you are
a longtime Nels fan or a newbie through his association with Wilco, you will
definitely want to check out this mindblowing new double album with his
longtime free jazz group The Nels Cline Singers.
Recorded in 2009 with veteran rock
producer Ron Saint Germain (Living Colour, Bad Brains, Tool, Soundgarden), Initiate is a half-studio/half-live
album that quintessentially showcases Cline’s duality as both a stylized scholar
of jazz guitar and a fearless purveyor of boundary-pushing exploration in
improvised noise. The studio disc could very well be the most diversified and
exploratory set of compositions in the Nels cache yet, with tracks ranging from
the sophisticated fretwork of longtime hero Jim Hall (“Divining”, “Mercy
(Supplication)”) to spaced-out transmissions (“Red Line to Greenland”) to a
feel akin to Remain in Light-era
Adrian Belew sitting in with Miles Davis’ electric band (“Floored”). Meanwhile,
the live set, the group’s first, is taken from a September 2009 performance at
San Francisco’s Café du Nord and features slaying takes on material from such
previous Nels gems as 2004’s The Giant
Pin and full group versions of tracks from last year’s outstanding solo
piece Coward, including “Thurston
County,” Nels’ tribute to pal and collaborator Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston
Moore. There’s also a pair of great and inventive jazz covers tackled in Carla
Bley’s deep gem “And Now the Queen” and a searing, lengthy take on Weather
Report’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz”.
If you have yet to delve into the
worthwhile solo catalog of this bonafide modern day guitar hero, Initiate is the ultimate place to start.
Standout Tracks: “Divining”, “Red Line to Greenland”, “Floored”, “Thurston County”