Photo appears courtesy of Greg Aiello
The new issue of JazzTimes is out, with my cover story on Nels Cline, the formidable lead guitarist in Wilco and avant-garde jazz assassin. I had a lot of fun with the assignment, and got some nice access to Cline, surely one of the humbler guys ever to take a stage in front of 10,000 screaming fans. Here I thought I’d add a few things that didn’t make it into the piece, for issues of space or continuity or focus. Or oversight. Or space. (Did I say that already?)
One aspect of Nels’s story that had to go slightly underreported was the nature of his relationship with his twin brother, the equally dangerous percussionist and composer Alex Cline. Their career paths don’t cross all that often anymore, but back in the day they were musically inseparable: playing in Homogenized Goo, their adolescent rock band, and later Quartet Music, an improvising cooperative, and on some of Tim Berne’s early albums. (Nels didn’t play on the 1987 landmark Fulton Street Maul, but Berne told me he was an active observer in the studio.) Anyway, they may have busy separate careers these days, but they still do manage the occasional throw-down.
Here, above, is a snippet of interview audio in which Nels talks about their shared psychedelic-rock obsession, and the way that their tastes both contrasted and overlapped.
I’d also like to include some additional thoughts from bassist Mike Watt, formerly of the Minutemen. Watt became a part of my piece through a happy accident of timing: one thing Cline was working on in New York this summer was a project called “Floored by Four,” with Watt, Yuka Honda and Doug E. Bowne. They played a Central Park SummerStage hit -- opening for the folk-rocker M. Ward, and wringing transcendent bliss out of the Funkadelic classic “Maggot Brain” -- and they also recorded some material for a forthcoming release. Reached by phone, Watt was voluble and gracious, giving me much more than I could hope to use. So let’s pause here for a symphony of similes:
[Nels] almost has a sense of theater, like a lighting man. Or cinema. He knows a lot about movies, I know he’s a big fan of Bergman and these cats. You were right by saying landscape. Sense of drama, tension, relaxation. It was never just technique, running a bunch of notes. He has a big-picture sense, almost like a conductor would. He has developed that kind of sense. And maybe it is this thing of movies, like a director. We’ve got all these little things go into it, but at the end of the day, it’s somebody’s eyes and ears witnessing this work. Or a cook: what’s it going to take at the end?
It was fun, too, hearing guitarist Bill Frisell describe a friendship that stretches back to the early 1980s, with a big lapse afterward: “There was a point where I didn’t see him for a really long time. Somehow we’d be at the Knitting Factory and I’d be there like an hour after he left, for a whole bunch of years. It was like 15 years or something, that I didn’t see him. And then just in the last few years, we got more physically connected again.” (One of my interviews with Cline took place in the garden-level crash pad he shares with Frisell. It’s in a Brooklyn brownstone; violinist Jenny Scheinman lives upstairs.)
There’s plenty more that I had to skim, but what can you do with someone who has amassed as many musical alliances as Cline? After I filed, I received an email from him: “Also, we didn’t speak much about 2 pivotal people in my life: Eric Von Essen and Carla Bozulich. But I tend to fret when I think things are too much about me...”
So in compensatory fashion: please do explore the realm of the late Von Essen, starting here.
I’ll also note that Bozulich, in the guise of her band Evangelista, has a new album out this week. For a taste, try streaming a track called “The Slayer” right here.
One of my sources (not Nels) told me that when Bozulich got the call from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, asking whether he could poach her guitar player, she said this: “OK, but if you’re going to hire Nels, you have to let him be Nels. If you don’t do that, you’re an idiot.” Here’s to calling it like you see it, and to recognizing talent when it shows up.
Photo appears courtesy of Greg Aiello