The Nels Cline Singers – “Macroscope”


Nels Cline Singers - "Macroscope"Macroscope isn’t so much an album of songs as a series of conceptual drawings of what creative guitar music could evolve into.  The music of the Nels Cline Singers seems to disdain form, throwing off sonic currents that swirl and crash and rend and occasionally drift.  However, there are moments when the music coalesces into something the ear can grab onto… the easy groove of “Red Before Orange,” the focused intensity of the conclusion to “Companion Piece,” the catchy melodic emergence of “The Wedding Band,” and the massive wall of ambient drone on “Seven Zed Heaven.”  But mostly this album is a world of sound sans walls, barriers, and boundaries.

Nels Cline is more generally known as the guitarist for rock band Wilco, but he began searing his mark on the music scene long before hooking up with Jeff Tweedy.  His first trio album preceded the Wilco collaboration by nearly two decades, and over the course of that time, he’s honed his creativity across a wide breadth of varied projects, ranging from jazz artists like Gregg Bendian, Vinny Golia, Tom Rainey, Julius Hemphill, and his Nels Cline Singers, while also hitting the floor with non-jazz acts like Mike Watt, Thurston Moore, and Carla Bozulich.  The diversity of these projects goes a long way to explaining the differentiation of his own personal sound as well as his ability to snap into place with the unconventional eccentricities of the inventive collaborations he dives into.

There’s no doubt, however, that his work with Wilco has had some effect on his current release.  There are several instances where the cacophony of dissonance and free kinetic energy coalesces into a warm embrace of melodic and harmonic expressions.  Most relevant would have to be “The Wedding Band,” and how a catchy, repetitive melodic riff emerges from the driving rhythmic force… and thrives with only so much as a tweak to the tempo.  The sudden harmonic swell of “Seven Zed Heaven” would be another example.  And though it sounds more like the experiments in ambient drone of fellow guitarist Roy Montgomery, it’s the kind of device not uncommon to the music of Wilco, especially beginning with their 2004 release A Ghost is Born.

This, added to some of the other new diversions that Cline takes on this recording result in amicable, intriguing new textures, and offers the listener plenty of handholds to grab onto this very likable, very challenging new release.

Your album personnel:  Nels Cline (electric guitar, electric 12-string guitar, lap steel, acoustic guitar, effects, voice, quintronics drum buddy), Scott Amendola (drums, percussion, electric mbira, electronic treatments), Trevor Dunn (contrabass, bass guitar, effects), and guests:  Zeena Parkins (electric harp), Yuka C. Honda (electric piano, OP-1), Josh Jones (congas, other percussion), and Cyro Baptista (the entire percussion universe).

Released on Mack Avenue Records.

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Some of this review was used originally in the weekly new jazz releases column I write for eMusic’s Wondering Sound, so here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

“New Arrivals Jazz Picks,“ reprints courtesy of, Inc.
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As always, my sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.