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Nels Cline: The Inkling

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Nels Cline is normally known for his distortion-laced banshee wail on electric guitar, but his Inkling quartet affords him the opportunity to communicate on a softer dynamic with Mark Dresser’s contrabass, Billy Mintz’s drumset and Zeena Parkins’ harp. The result is at times gentler, though no less creative, than his more electrified endeavors.

The CD opens on a serene note with “New Old Lot,” a beautiful conversation between Cline’s acoustic guitar and Dresser’s contrabass with minimal percussive coloring by Mintz. This highly sensitive chamberlike aesthetic is also pursued on the lengthy “Alstromeria” suite as well as on brief, free-improv pieces like “Cork Farm,” “Circular” and “Shale Bed.”

Cline does break out the electric guitar, stomp on the distortion box and shriek in harsher tones on the raucous “Spider Wisdom,” in which he engages in some heady sonic interplay with all manner of wacky samples triggered by Parkins’ electric harp. His open-string power-chording on “Sunken Song”-a tune that summons up notions of Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life recast through Derek Bailey’s looking glass-creates a formidable wall of noise behind some ferocious bowing by Dresser. The 13-minute noise-jam freakout “Queen of Angels” is another exception to the rule of softer and gentler on this latest Cline project.

Not much in the way of jaw-dropping guitar pyrotechnics here. While Cline has proven himself a fretboard scorcher in the past, he had not conceived of anything as simple and delicate as “Moth Song,” a lyrical highlight of this adventurous CD.