Nels Cline is one of the most eclectic guitarists in the country. He has slung his electric six-strings in a dazzling assortment of contexts, including avant-garde jazz with Tim Berne and the late Julius Hemphill and indie rock with Mike Watt, Geraldine Fibbers, and (his current steady gig) Wilco. Cline's style is rooted in the elastic freedom of jazz and the gnarly impertinence of rock 'n' roll, and Macroscope, the new album with his Bay Area-rooted trio of Trevor Dunn (bass) and Scott Amendola (drums), presents a full range of his capabilities.
While the album isn't "fusion" in any conventional sense, Cline and company interlace aspects of jazz and rock seamlessly — "Canales' Cabeza" features his shining, sharp swing (think jazz guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheny) over stormy bass and drums, Cline peppering his lines with droll, judicious dissonances. "Respira" has percolating Brazilian-flavored rhythms and Cline scatting the bittersweet, musing melody before breaking into a searing, slow-burning solo evoking Carlos Santana's feverish playing circa 1973's Love Devotion Surrender. The languid "Red Before Orange" has glistening, mellow chords, evoking Wes Montgomery over undulating percussion, then segues into a sizzling Frank Zappa-like interlude before gracefully returning the listener to a Caribbean idyll. "The Wedding Band" begins with wacky, surreal tape loops.
Dunn and Amendola weave a West African rhythm matrix over which Cline's country-tinged lap steel elegantly soars in a manner evoking the sighing dual guitars of The Allman Brothers Band in their early Seventies' prime. Macroscope is a demanding yet invigorating listen. (Cryptogramophone/Mack Ave)
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