As someone neither overly enamored with the guitar nor particularly thrilled with hearing various ax-related gimmicks, it was nonetheless a distinct pleasure most of the time listening to Nels Cline's adventurous musical experiments on 6-string, 12-string and baritone guitars on Instrumentals. While not as frenetic as the late Sonny Sharrock or as mellow as Pat Metheny, Cline's uses of feedback, dissonance and manipulation of tuning are implemented with taste and sophistication on Instrumentals' best tracks. Indeed, the playing of Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and percussionist Scott Amendola is mostly excellent on the nearly 78-minute disc. While the trio deserves compliments for its abilities, the same can't always be said for the musical menu.
Instrumentals is an erratic, at times disjoined session, something that occasionally seems to be a deliberate tactic rather than a session accident. Longer pieces like "Lucia" and "Blood Drawing" become tedious and tiring after about seven minutes of exploding strings, various effects, and notes being held for what seems like hours as thudding bass lines and processed loops and other musical snippets are interlaced around them. The short compositions are much better, particularly "Cause for Concern," "Slipped Away" and "Harbor Child," where Cline, Amendola and Hoff make succinct, crisp statements and deftly interact around tightly delivered arrangements that have more discernible themes.
There's certainly a lot to admire about what Nels Cline is doing on much of Instrumentals, but there's just too much chaos during those segments that don't work.