Monday, May 15, 2006


"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun."

-- Pablo Picasso


The Nels Cline Singers - Lowered Boom

Don't know about you but my imagination isn't that good. There's no way I can conceive what Hendrix would have sounded and looked like to the acid-addled audiences of the 1960s, going from Herman's Hermits to the distorted guitar crunch of Blue Cheer and Jimi Hendrix in a few short years. Fast forwarding twenty years we get bands like Sonic Youth and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Noisy, challenging, esoteric. This brings up the age old question of the cerebral vs. the commerical. Hendrix had it right, while others proceding him have been hit and miss, many missing more often than hitting. Dream Theater is a technically talented prog rock band whose songcraftmanship amounts to about nill. Pretentious, bloated, humorless. While alternative jazz guitarist and new Wilco member, Nels Cline, seems to know how to walk the line. Judging from his early forays into free jazz, Nels wasn't the likeliest of fits for Jeff Tweedy's forward-looking, yet comparably tame, Chicago outfit. It will be interesting to hear how much creative control he is allowed and if Nels can help prop up modern indie rock's most appealing voice.

Nels Cline is rooted in John Coltrane's school of interpretation. Both reimagine a conventional piece of music by scrambling it into something thrilling, making the old new. See: My Favorite Things. Nels even gave a nod to the long shadow Trane casts over all experimental jazz musicians, by covering the Saint's album Interstellar Space - that's right Nels covered an entire Coltrane album. Fifty-nine minutes and seven seconds of guitar and percussion with nary another instrument in sight, this is not for the musically timid. Take a listen none the less, it's quite the sonic journey.

John McLaughlin, Miles Davis' jammate during his fusion years, is Cline's final major touchstone with the past. Exhibiting much of McLaughlin's shrill tone and jaunty riffing, Nels blends that with pop sensibilities as is evident with his work in Deerhoof. For a better understanding of McLaughlin's sound, which is actually quite important in order to understand eleventy-seven percent of what's going on in music today, go buy - or steal - A Tribute to Jack Johnson (the boxer, not the effete singer/songwriter of the same name) and On the Corner both by Miles Davis.

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