This meeting of the guitar minds might sound like an improbable pairing: the 58-year-old Wilco guitarist known for his punkish avant-garde flights of fancy joining forces with the 26-year-old melodicist best known for his mastery of mainstream jazz guitar and his winning detours into bluegrass. Check your skepticism at the door.
Nels Cline and Julian Lage don’t need a rhythm section to fill out their sound. Nor does Cline bring his battalion of effects pedals. Room is the sound of two clean, crisp guitars (each player alternates electric archtops and flat-top acoustics), one in each channel, and the discovery of a vast tract of common ground. From the opening seconds of the album, the two guitarists display an amazing symmetry, playing the deceptive line of Lage’s “Abstract 12” with taut precision. During “Blues, Too,” Cline’s salute to Jim Hall, that precise attack evolves beyond the sound of two guitars into a larger single entity. They attack odd time signatures with gusto on a few tracks; “The Scent of Light” traverses a few sections before climaxing in a coda that bounces between two such off-kilter riffs. “Odd End” gets a little rigid, sounding like a 7/8 line played more for show, but it’s saved by a sharp bridge.
They push each other beyond their comfort zones too: Cline frequently displays gentle lyricism and Lage demonstrates that he too can get noisy. The spontaneous “Waxman” might be one of the best representations of the collaboration, as it moves cohesively through spare, long tones into melodic moments, none of it sounding rushed or undercooked.