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The Inkling

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Album Review

Those who find avant-garde jazz and free improvisation to be too abrasive are advised to check out this album, on which guitarist Nels Cline is joined by bass wizard Mark Dresser, drummer Billy Mintz, and downtown legend Zeena Parkins on electric and acoustic harp. Make no mistake about it, this music (some of which is composed and some improvised) is definitely challenging: tonal centers, when they exist, shift unpredictably, and Dresser and Parkins in particular make almost constant use of extended techniques that allow them to pull otherworldly sounds from their instruments. But the musical textures are generally quite delicate, and even when the music is atonal it's often very beautiful, even by conventional measures. "Alstromeria," in particular, features some lovely passages on which interlocked harp and guitar arpeggios march gently beneath Dresser's quietly wailing line of artificial harmonics, and the startlingly tortured sounds that Parkins elicits from her electric harp on "Spider Wisdom" (one of the more difficult pieces on this album) are lots of fun. Melodically, Cline is clearly influenced by Derek Bailey, but his tone and execution are all his, and his compositions reward the effort it sometimes takes to follow them. Recommended.


Born: 1956 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Up to the mid-2000s, guitarist Nels Cline was probably best known for his work in the group Quartet Music (with brother Alex Cline, bassist Eric Von Essen, and violinist Jeff Gauthier) as well as other projects in the jazz, rock, and avant-garde idioms, and for his general involvement in the West Coast's improvisation community. However, since 2004, Cline has been a member of Wilco, which has opened up a much larger audience for the guitarist than is typical for even the most well-known of avant...
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The Inkling, Nels Cline
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