Nels Cline on why he fronts a jazz band in addition to playing for Wilco

Categories: Interviews

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Mimi Chakarova
Guitar wiz Nels Cline says he used to envy people who could stick to one genre, like musicians who'd say, "All I do is play swing, or all I do is play bluegrass, or all I do is play prepared guitar." But for Cline, due tonight at Dazzle, focusing on one style has never really been his bag. His far-reaching scope is evident on most recordings he's done, including those with Wilco -- a band he has played with for a decade -- or with the Nels Cline Singers, who just released their fifth disc, Macroscope, on the Mac Avenue imprint.

As with 2010's Initiate, Cline explores particularly diverse terrain on Macroscope. "I think the idea of the record, in my mind, was to be a continuation, aesthetically, of Initiate," he says.

Cline says the title of Macroscope speaks to the idea of the mutt within and laughs while saying, "It also kind of speaks to my inability to do a cohesive record. It's kind of all over the place, a scattershot approach...It's just the way I do stuff. So maybe it's a kinder, gentler way of describing my way inability to focus on any one style."

Part of Cline's chameleonic guitar playing stems from the fact that he grew up a rock and roll kid, inspired by guitar players like the Byrd's Roger McGuinn and Quicksilver Messenger Service's John Cipollina before steeping himself in jazz, Indian music, Nigerian pop and a lot more. On Macroscope, Cline lays back somewhat on the Brazilian-flavored "Respira" and chilled George Benson-esque "Red Before Orange" while also digging in and freaking out on some cuts, like during the second half of "Companion Piece" and the visceral "Hairy Mother."

Macroscope also marks the first album with new bassist Trevor Dunn, who previously worked with Mr. Bungle and Fantomas, after the departure of Devin Hoff about three years ago. While the trio's drummer Scott Amendola, who's been part of the Singers since the trio's 2002 debut Instrumentals, is in fine form on the new disc, the act's musical landscape is expanded with the addition of special guests like Cibo Matto keyboardist Yuka Honda (who Cline married in 2010) percussionists Josh Jones and Cyro Baptista (who is currently touring with the Singers) and harpist Zeena Parkins.

Cline plays on Cibo Matto's Hotel Valentine, the duo's first disc in 15 years that was released last February, and he's gotten to play a few gigs and radio shows with them in New York and he's hoping to go on the road with this fall.

This year marks Wilco's twentieth anniversary, and Cline says the group will eventually get around to make a new record. In the meantime, the Chicago-based sextet has been taking a much-needed year off that comes to a close in September. Cline has used that free time playing a lot of gigs and well as lending his skills to a few albums, including a disc with guitarist Julian Lage, an all improvised album with Medeski, Martin & Wood and he recorded with White Out in the band's New York apartment that Cline says will a vinyl release that might come out next year.

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1 comments
John Elliott
John Elliott

Heard them last night at Dazzle. The jazz band was fucking terrible...

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