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The Giant Pin

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Album Review

This CD is a worthy successor to Instrumentals, the inaugural 2002 release from Nels Cline's working trio, which features Devin Hoff on contrabass and Scott Amendola on drums, percussion, and live electronics. As before, the mix is wildly eclectic, with Cline not only having his way with electric guitars and various effects boxes but also demonstrating a sympathetic grasp of disparate musical styles, including thrash/punk, lyrical mainstream jazz, and avant-garde experimentation. The witty, erudite Cline (who also writes great liner notes, by the way) isn't just going through the motions here, doing the survey thing and self-consciously displaying either his chops or his ability to name-check as many genres as possible. There's too much palpable joy (and pathos) in his playing to categorize his efforts as a mere exercise of musical one-upmanship. When he opens with "Blues, Too," a delicate homage to mainstream guitar master Jim Hall, Cline's respect for and appreciation of Hall is clearly genuine. And when he moves from the opening track to the occasionally outrageous noisefest of "Fly, Fly," trading fours and eights with drummer Amendola and coaxing sounds from the guitar that will make small animals run for cover, he wholeheartedly embraces the role of metal-shredder supremo. The hushed, somewhat abstract lyricism of pieces like "Bright Moon" comes closest to a delicate chamber jazz sound favored by the ECM record label, with thoughtful interaction among the three trio members and Cline's limpid, crystal-clear lines bringing to mind both Jim Hall and the more contemporary Pat Metheny. The closing track, "Watch Over Us," adds a discrete touch of celeste and harmonium, and a deep, thoughtful solo from Hoff. It communicates a sense of hushed reverence. But the three most striking pieces on the CD feature heavy, rhythmic chording and spiky, dissonant energy that veer more in the direction of Sonic Youth than Metheny or Hall. "Square King" is, as Cline puts it, a "barn burner," and the heavy wall of pensive riffage throughout "He Still Carries a Torch for Her" is set off against interludes during which Cline conducts musical lab experiments over Amendola's stark, tribal thumping. Still, the most powerful and moving piece on this fine CD is "Something About David H.," Cline's elegy to a long-dead friend of his youth. Cline refers to the "deep yet vague emotional baggage" of this unexpected and unsolicited memory, and he presents it as a musical journey in which a quiet, mournful meditation gradually gives way to a grave but insistent seven-note riff. This riff ultimately wrestles the music away from reverie and into an emotional confession of grief and loss that becomes truly cathartic. Not everything in the program carries this kind of emotional freight, but it offers the most dramatic example of Cline's general ability to synthesize beauty, emotion, intellect, technique, and even humor in his playing. He and his two bandmates truly offer the complete package.

Customer Reviews


This album is great, being free jazz, rock and roll skronk, melodic and profoundly moving, often all at the same time. Nels shows his incredibly diverse bag of tricks on this album, all to good effect. Backed up by his redoubtable collaborators Scott Amendola on drums and Devin Hoff bassist extraordinaire and Greg Saunier of San Francisco avant pop meisters Deerhoof doing vocals on one track, Nels plays some of his best material on this album. It's noise, it's avant rock, it's jazz and it's some of the most creative instrumental music played in the last twenty years. Absolutely worth the purchase.


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 Giant Pin, Nels Cline
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