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Album Review

In which the lanky longtime axe hero of Los Angeles' creative music scene seeks to "explore the possibilities of many stringed instruments and their timbres...and to create a climate of catharsis." Oh yeah, and get his noise improv rocks off in the guitar army company of close compadres Woodward Lee Aplanalp, Carla Bozulich, and G.E. Stinson. So the relevant consumer warning is for anyone (like maybe Bozulich fans expecting some traces of the Geraldine Fibbers) who find torrential maelstroms of guitar noise anathema to steer clear — it's dense pack time here with four guitars, rhythm section, and occasional guests Zeena Parkins and Wayne Peet.

There's no easy entry, because "Spider Wisdom" leaps right in with abstract swatches of guitar effects — the sonic treatments come creeping and crawling at you from all sides of the web. Cline's pieces rarely stay in one vein, so "Chicagoan" boasts stated themes before locking into a foundation riff with a space bloop effects solo by Aplanalp that resolves into a holocaust, followed by a very direct Cline solo over that almost vintage jazz-rock fusion riff.

The stately "Progression" waxes melancholy, "The Ringing Hand" is an extended display of Cline's lyrical side, and "Friends of Snowman," a dreamy, crystalline dynamics downshift that evokes the sound of snowflakes falling. The main theme to "Talk of a Chocolate Bed" isn't the only one with tinges of Captain Beefheart instrumentals before heading off into the uncharted feedback squalls and sonic squiggle zones again. "After Armenia" is a moody, kinda Popol Vuh soundtrack for guitar noises before an organic phase shift into tumultuous sound sculpting, and the tormented, portentous "Big Theme" might make a perfect soundtrack for a short avant-garde film with its closing triumphal surge.

The most cohesive and accessible track is "As in Life," a five-part piece dedicated to late L.A. jazz piano master Horace Tapscott, an early Cline influence and mentor. "Clarion Call" aims for spiritual uplift a lá Tapscott or John Coltrane, via repeating circular guitar riffs that move to a lyrical Cline solo in "Sidewalk University," and escalates in intensity before closing out with a reprise of the "Clarion Call" riffing to signify the spirit force ascending.

You won't hear Nels Cline individually to his best advantage here because the music is so dense and detail-packed it's hard to tell the soloists and the players apart. Which just may be the reason he wanted to do the project and name the disc Destroy All Nels Cline — to escape from any personality focus, and get back to collective music making. It's tough stuff, but if you like seriously electric guitar improvisation and/or Sonic Youth and their ilk's more experimental forays, there are plenty of rewards here.


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...
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Destroy All Nels Cline, Nels Cline
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