Over the last 30 years, Nels Cline has made the transition from upstart guitarist to an established and well respected player. In many ways, he is now at the peak of his career, a leader of several projects, and an in-demand sideman. This is the fifth album from the inappropriately-named Nels Cline Singers – the group is instrumental though some vocals are moaned and chanted. Featuring Cline on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Scott Amendola on drums, the group is rounded out with contributions from Yuka Honda, Cyro Baptista, Josh Jones, and Zeena Parkins.
The first track, Companion Piece, begins as slow acoustic jazz, then builds up to explosive soloing from Cline, while the rhythm section lays down a varying base. The Wedding Band is another fun track, opening with guitar and effects over South American percussion, then settling with guitar picking and a wandering bass line. Climb Down offers a relatively steady beat overlaid with guitar fiddling and effects, while Seven Zed Heaven begins with an inside-out guitar line before moving on to processed slides and licks, and a long tension-filled crescendo.
What should be clear is that the Singers never rest on a particular style or feel. The album is varied and each track is unique, but all of them work together as a cohesive whole. And some are downright catchy in their own weird ways. Not exactly jazz, not exactly avant-garde, not exactly rock, Cline and company pull together aspects of those styles and more to produce an engaging release.