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Nels Cline Singers: The Giant Pin

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The Nels Cline Singers’ The Giant Pin follows 2002’s Instrumentals and ought to sew up the sterling reputation of this genre-defying group (in which, by the way, no one sings). L.A.-based guitarist Cline has worked with everyone from Julius Hemphill to the Blue Man Group, and he recently joined the indie-rock powerhouse and critics’ fave Wilco. Cline’s liner notes (and Web site, show him to be a hugely entertaining writer, and it’s hard to resist quoting his own description of this music: “spidery jazzoid invention, monolithic psych-rock bludgeon, balladry, icy space reverberations, and related joy/tra ma.”

Cline’s music is resolutely left of the dial, a challenge. But its dynamics, rhythmic intensity and frequently searing melodicism are a joy. It’s easy to imagine listeners of many stripes cottoning to his sound. (Might he lure Wilco fans toward far-out jazz?) Scott Amendola (drums/electronics) and Devin Hoff (double bass) effortlessly blend rock-band grit with jazz-trio virtuosity. Jon Brion plays miscellaneous instruments on two cuts, and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier adds a subtle wordless vocal on one. Violinist and Crypto labelmate Jeff Gauthier did a commendable job as producer.

“Blues, Two” begins the album with Monkish, off-kilter swing, and “Fly Fly” shows how Cline can weave intricate detail into what is otherwise a sonic onslaught. “He Still Carries a Torch for Her” recalls the dark, abrasive rock of Sonic Youth, while the slow, climactic groove of “Something About David H.” practically urges us to hold aloft a cigarette lighter. “Bright Moon” and “The Ballad of Devin Hoff” are exquisitely lyrical mini-epics, contrasting well with the raging art-punk of “Square King” and the ambient soundscapes of “Spell,” “The Friar” and “A Boy Needs a Door.” Cline signs off with the meditative ballad “Watch Over Us.”

Gregg Bendian joined Cline for 1999’s Interstellar Space Revisited (Atavistic), and is perhaps best known for his leadership of the Mahavishnu Project. His Interzone quartet features the Cline brothers, Nels and drummer Alex, as well as bass giant Mark Dresser. Most notably, Interzone is Bendian’s chance to shine exclusively as a vibraphonist, not a drummer. Atavistic has reissued the group’s 1997 self-titled debut, inspired by the music of the ’70s prog-rock band Gentle Giant and originally on Eremite.

Not unlike Cline’s music, Bendian’s is thoughtfully composed but open-ended, frayed and dissonant but inviting. “Countermeasures” and “Titled” nod fairly explicitly to swing-based jazz, while “Blood: Sassoon Zi-Tavit” indulges in hard-rock riffing and “I-Zones” is a tempoless odyssey in sound. The reissue adds shorter live versions of “Titled” and the angular “Debacle.”