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The Nels Cline Singers "MACROSCOPE" Album Review

The Wilco lead guitarist's latest album is a deep exploration into free-from, improvised music but with a more textural, melodic slant.


The Nels Cline Singers
Mack Avenue Records

If the only thing you’ve heard from sonic alchemist Nels Cline is the indie-rock rumblings he adds to Wilco, you’re missing out on one of the most creative guitarists around. His latest album, MACROSCOPE, is a deep exploration into free-from, improvised music but with a more textural, melodic slant. Cline’s trio (drummer Scott Amendola and bassist Trevor Dunn) actively pursues the spirit and freedom of exciting jazz music, but with modern tones. With that in mind, neither Cline or Dunn are afraid to step on an effect and make some “noise” if it pushes the group’s aesthetic and mission forward.

The intro to “Red Before Orange” juxtaposes a throbbing, almost EDM bass line with a beautifully unadorned Wes Montgomery-like melody before the group collectively catches its breath and Cline soars into the Hendrixian stratosphere. The stop-and-go of “Sascha’s Book of Frogs” proves that NCS has a racecar engine with an avant-garde outlook. This isn’t easy music to get into—and it’s not supposed to be. Cline’s musical trick bag is always surprising, but never excessive.

Must-hear track: “Climb Down,” “Canales’ Cabeza”

From Nels:

This is a groover in 6/4 dedicated to our friend and wizard chef Paul Canales, one of the coolest (yet most intense) people I know and a huge supporter of forward-leaning music. Songs like this are really just excuses to blow over a percolating ostinato. Trevor (Dunn, on electric bass) and Scott (Amendola, on drums) totally bring it. I almost always get tense trying to play a smokin' solo in the studio with headphones, and this is no exception!

That said, I like the composition and I intend to rock this tune hard on upcoming gigs. For all you gearheads out there, I’m playing a ’59 Fender Jazzmaster (my sunburst “New York” one), a Klon Centaur with its purity of purpose sullied by my object-of-ridicule Boss CS-3 compressor (I never do this, but that night I did...), and a ZT Club amp. That's right—a plastic-covered, particleboard, solid-state, made-in-China cube so un-PC that I’m feeling the waves of future bad karma as I write this. Anyway, my sweet ’60s Panoramic had a blown speaker and the session was, to say the least, time sensitive, so I had to go with what works! I use that little silver cube all over New York: It’s portable, not precious, and difficult to break (though I did manage to destroy the input jack recently by knocking the thing over during a no-holds-barred duo gig with Fred Frith). I hope you enjoy this straightforward tribute to a prince of a fellow/culinary king. If you find yourself in Oakland, California, check out his restaurant, Duende, and sample his Basque-inspired offerings.