The New Cool: The Nels Cline Singers get edgy on new Blue Note album | KNKX

The New Cool: The Nels Cline Singers get edgy on new Blue Note album

Feb 11, 2021

When my favorite musicians talk like fans, I listen. So I perked up when "saxophonics" icon Skerik wrote to me, "Nels (Cline) is such a force and he wrote some amazing music for this record, it's really special and I want everyone to hear it and support him. Thank you."

He's right, and you'll hear Nels Cline with Skerik on Friday's New Cool.

The new album Share the Wealth is the third Blue Note release from The Nels Cline Singers.

"I feel there's something for everyone on that record," Skerik writes. Well, except singing.

Nels Cline is one of the most revered guitarists of the century, if not the most famous. I first heard him with popular indie-rock group Wilco, but he's on more than 150 albums spanning rock 'n' roll, country, pop, jazz and more experimental music. Cline was named one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2011.

Cline's been heard on The New Cool in a duet with fellow guitarist Julian Lage, with Seattle-now-Brooklyn saxophonist Jessica Lurie, and rock fans know Wilco's Ode to Joy came out in 2019.

This new Blue Note effort is fully Nels Cline's operation. He wrote all the songs, except album opener "Segunda" by Caetano Veloso, with several long improvisational pieces with this great band.

Much of the music is unapologetically avant-garde, like the 17-minute "Stump the Panel." Cline's original intent was to cull pieces of the improvisations and edit them together.

But, he says, "when I listened back to these jams, I liked them so much that I wanted to keep them intact."

The musicians of the Nels Cline Singers were more than up to the task - Brian Marsella (keys), Trevor Dunn (bass), Scott Amendola (drums) and Cyro Baptista (percussion) revel in the wild soundscapes of Share the Wealth.

Skerik's appearance is notable, as the two longtime friends had never recorded together until now. Cline acknowledges the saxophonist's wild side, but also points out a "kind of Gato Barbieri - Pharoah Sanders thing that he can do. When he hits that stuff, it works my nerves in the best possible way. Just being able to hit that really direct, really strong melodic thing is very rewarding for my ears.”

Cline and Skerik - and the rest of the Singers - work out ferocious interplay and intensely intimate moments from start to finish. "Beam/Spiral" builds and evolves and envelopes the listener, while the delicate "Nightstand" is a journey into beautiful noir-ish places with Cline's guitar co-starring with Skerik's sax like a pair of characters from a David Lynch film.

The Nels Cline Singers (l-r): Cyro Baptista, Skerik, Nels (with dog), Scott Amendola, Brian Marsella, Randall Dunn.
Credit Promotional picture provided by Blue Note Records

Mystery and beauty meet the avant-garde in Share the Wealth, with Cline showing off a bit of explosive shredding ("Princess Phone" - whew!) and letting his talented band do their thing.

It's a fully immersive listen over the double-vinyl album's four sides, but it shouldn't be restricted to advanced listeners. Share the Wealth's coolness factor emphasizes modern jazz fusion but leaves room to settle into aluring melody as well.

Album closer "Passed Down," which you'll hear on The New Cool Friday night, puts a sunset-hued bow on the preceding explorations.

Cline's gentle guitar plucking sets the tone for Skerik to play those direct notes on a lovely melody, which evolves mid-song into a Middle Eastern section that has Cline sounding almost like a sitar player. The melody returns and slowly concludes as though tucking the listener into bed to ponder what's been played.

There's a world of musical secrets to discover in Share the Wealth, and active listening will reveal many of them over repeated listens. As we continue to wait for the return of live music, you won't find many things more worth your time these days.

The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.