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The Nels Cline Singers – Initiate (Cryptogramophone)

28 April 2010

Guitar god supreme NELS CLINE follows up his superb solo album Coward with Initiate, a double disk set featuring his longtime support musicians DEVIN HOFF (contrabass) and SCOTT AMENDOLA (drums, electronics). Cline often comes across as a restless soul, striking out in all directions at once. I think that perception is deceiving and that he’s in fact incredibly focused. Case in point: the studio recordings on disk 1 may range all over the map, from the British folk of “Grow Closer” and the epic prog of “Red Line to Greenland” to the KING CRIMSON-like fusion of “King Queen,” and the avant garde clatter of “Scissor/Saw.” But the combination of Cline’s tonal consistency and distinctive technique and the Singers’ willingness to follow the leader wherever he roams gives the record a recognizable drive that holds everything together. No mere audio résumé, this disk is a map of Cline country, and it’s territory that’s a pleasure to explore.

The second disk captures the Singers in concert for a set of tunes that draws from many periods of his career. Amendola’s swinging thrash across his kit gives this bundle of tunes a jazzier feel than the ones on the studio CD. The shifting rhythmic dynamics form a base for Cline to be his usual noisemongering but melodic self, whether layering swathes of near-ambient sound over the slowly evolving “Forge,” comping with serious swing on “Blues, Too” or splattering notes and riffs all over the lens on the brutish “Raze.” Cline also pays tribute to some of his influences, reprising the rocking Sonic Youth tribute “Thurston County” from Coward with Amendola’s electronic gremlins in tow , giving composer CARLA BLEY‘s obscure “And Now the Queen” a spin through gentle dissonance and putting the late JOE ZAWINUL‘s “Boogie Woogie Waltz” through the psych rock ringer. Put together, the two sides of Initiate form a primer on Nels Cline’s remarkable music, an entry point into a distinctive world.

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