Leave it to renegade six-stringer Nels Cline to tackle the decidedly un-guitaristic music of Andrew Hill on this unconventional tribute project. Accompanied by fellow West Coast improvisers and provocateurs Devin Hoff on bass, Scott Amendola on drums, brother Alex Cline on percussion, Zeena Parkins on accordion, Ben Goldberg on clarinet and Los Angeles avant-garde icon Bobby Bradford (a colleague of Ornette Coleman and John Carter) on cornet, Cline morphs easily from giddy single-note lines (as during his animated dialogue with Goldberg on “McNeil Island”) to densely textured chordal clusters, hellacious skronking (his spiky interpretation of Hill’s turbulent “Compulsion”) and swirling psychedelia created with backwards effects and ambient loops (as on his radical reconstruction of the dirgelike “Dance With Death”). While the music remains Andrew’s, everything is filtered through Cline’s slightly twisted aesthetic, revealing startling new outcomes.
“Not Sa No Sa,” a brilliant example of freedom within structure, is rendered here as an edgy thrash manifesto highlighted by Goldberg’s soaring clarinet, Bradford’s liberated cornet work and Cline’s remarkably intense guitar playing, which comes across like a slightly cleaner version of Sonny Sharrock’s “shards of splintered glass” approach to soloing. Their spacious take on “No Doubt” is a serene excursion into ambient textures with Parkins and Cline conjuring up dreamy soundscapes with heavily effected instruments. Bradford exchanges bold freebop licks with Goldberg’s deep-toned contra-alto clarinet on the jaunty, Monkish “Reconciliation” and with regular clarinet on a wacky swing-blues rendition of “Yokada Yokada,” which Cline neatly ties to Hill’s boogaloo “The Rumproller.” Cline provides slashing surf-guitar licks on top of the groove of this Hill piece (originally written for the Lee Morgan Blue Note album of the same name) before erupting into an onslaught of white noise. On the extreme opposite end of the dynamic spectrum is the Hill ballad “Dedication,” a hauntingly beautiful showcase for Bradford’s relaxed lyricism, which also features a heartfelt, warm-toned, unaffected guitar solo from Nels and a stirring contra-alto clarinet solo from Goldberg.
While this tribute is obviously done with great reverence for Andrew Hill’s oeuvre, Cline doesn’t hesitate to lob hand grenades into the proceedings from time to time. I expect nothing less from the guy who successfully tackled John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space.