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THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (3 of 4)

PART III: “INTO IT” (2004-2007)

In early 2004, the Singers add a new word to their already-expansive vocabulary:

wil•co \ˈwil-(ˌ)kō\
interj [will comply] (ca. 1938) – used especially in radio and signaling to indicate that a message received will be complied with
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Wilco lineup circa 2003. From Left: Leroy Bach, Glenn Kotche, The Tweedman, John Stirratt

NELS CLINE: I met Jeff Tweedy in 1996 when The Geraldine Fibbers opened for Golden Smog (a "fun" side project made up of members of The Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Run Westy Run, et al). The Fibbers really cottoned to Mr. Tweedy, seeming to single him out as "special". I'm rather chagrined to say that I didn't really notice him any more than the other fellows… (nelscline.com)

PAT SANSONE (Wilco guitarist/keyboardist): "Ah, Nels. I first met Nels about twelve years ago at South By Southwest when he was playing with the Geraldine Fibbers...We had a long, intense and deep conversation that really touched me -- and he has no recollection of it whatsoever." (from Wilco: Ashes of American Flags DVD)

Cline has been making records since Wilco's leader Jeff Tweedy was in grade school.
(Bill Moyer, Chicago Tribune, 11/09/04)

“I just joined Wilco!”
(Nels Cline to this blogger, 3/04)

Holy crap, dudes. Nels Cline is going to be playing live with Wilco "for the foreseeable future." Are you excited as me? You should be. (post on Done Waiting bulletin board, 3/04/04)

NELS: Carla Bozulich – (Fibbers leader) stayed in touch with Jeff, and when we would play Chicago, Jeff would come to the gigs and/or lend me gear…What a generous and friendly sort he seemed! Little did I realize that he was kind of keeping tabs on me. (nelscline.com)


Nels Cline joins Wilco.
(Avant Music News headline, 4/24/04)

NELS: When Carla, with [the Singers] in tow, opened for Wilco a few times in 2003, we all became better acquainted, and I also met the rest of Wilco. It was delightful! [Wilco drummer] Glenn Kotche really grabbed the attention of my comrades…not only because of his noticeable skills, but also because of his predilection for playing WEIRD IMPROVISED MUSIC in his spare time. (nelscline.com)

DEVIN HOFF: “Actually, I knew Glenn because we had done a record with this singer/songwriter John Vecchiarelli in San Francisco.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

Wilco drum master Glenn Kotche [Photo via Drummerworld]

NELS: Too long story shorter, when [guitarist/keyboardist] Leroy Bach left Wilco after recording A Ghost Is Born, it was deemed intriguing to ask me aboard. Jeff called Carla first, sounding her out. He knew that any involvement in Wilco on my part would kind of take me out of any serious Carla touring scenarios. But Carla and I both knew that this was a great opportunity.
Right?!?! (nelscline.com)

JEFF TWEEDY: “Wilco is a pretty good deal for a lot of people. You can pay the rent. It’s a good place to be. But what I’ve discovered is that when people lose interest in the music, they may not even admit it to themselves, because the environment is very cushy, so they aren’t going to leave until they’re told to.” (from Wilco: Learning How to Die by Greg Kot)

NELS: “I was having so much trouble making my nut every month, even though I was working a lot. I thought, ‘I’m crazy, I’m a loser, I’m going to be 50 years old and I’m not even able to make a living. I’m living like a teenager, with roommates and no money.’” (No Depression, Nov/Dec 2007)

SCOTT AMENDOLA: “We’ve all been in that position wondering if were gonna survive or not…I’ve known Nels to take gigs that he’s wanted to do and turned down gigs that paid a lot more or could have led to bigger things because he never wanted to bail out. He’s a very honorable person in that way.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

NELS: “Carla called me on the cell and said, 'Jeff Tweedy's been calling, and he's going to ask you play with Wilco.' I didn't really have to think about it very long.” (San Francisco Bay Guardian, 11/04/04)

SCOTT: “Jeff asked Carla, ‘What about Nels?’ and Carla said, ‘Listen, if you want Nels in your band, you’ve got to hire Nels for Nels, and if you don’t want Nels for Nels in your band, then you’re a fucking idiot.’
I mean, God love Carla, right?” (Interview, 3/12/10)

The Divine Homegirl: Carla Bozulich onstage in 2007 [Photo via Flickr]

DEVIN: “Then Nels called us: ‘I don’t know, it seems like a big commitment but it feels like I have to do it. Should I do it?’ Scott and I were like, ‘Are you kidding?! There’s no choice here!’” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: “My fixation on Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds is paying off. And Humble Pie.” (Downbeat, 6/09)

DEVIN: “They weren’t hiring Nels to be Mr. Random Guitar Player. They wanted him in the band.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

NELS: If the attraction to Wilco is puzzling (it seems to puzzle a few, though more folks seem to think it an excellent fit, which is equally odd to me), look to their involvement with Jim O'Rourke, to their many and sometimes really out-there side projects [The Autumn Defense, Loose Fur, On Fillmore, Pronto]…These guys are not generic roots rockers. And besides, I personally like Mr. Tweedy's lyric sensibilities very much. I like the upcoming album. Bill Frisell thinks it's a perfect pairing, OK?!!? (nelscline.com, 3/04)

SCOTT: “There was a rumor spreading around that time, ‘Didja hear Nels got $200,000 to go with Wilco?’ Which was complete bullshit. This isn’t Whitesnake when Steve Vai joined!” (Interview, 3/12/10)

Glenn Kotche & Nels Cline: Live at the Black Orchid [Photo via Flickr]

NELS: “There were people who felt I was abandoning my path and essentially abandoning them…But the thing about Wilco is that despite how overtly normal they may seem to many of my fans, it's really obvious that they've become much more popular as they've become more interesting--which is completely unusual. There isn't any plan or strategy behind what they do, except to make the kind of records they want. And that was good enough for me." (Chicago Reader, 6/10/04)

Nels is a great guitarist, but what's he done? Really?
(post on Harmony Central Musician community forum, 6/09/09)

JOHN STIRRATT (Wilco bassist): "[Nels is] such a professional and so committed fully to music, but he's also one of the more...Old World, gentlemanly people that I've ever met." (from Wilco: Ashes of American Flags DVD)

JEFF TWEEDY: “Nels is a very, very encouraging and sweet gentleman. There are things that he feels like aren't for him say musically. He thinks that the way I play is kind of what I'm getting at and that I should on some songs. Other songs, thank god, he's free to do what we have him in that band to do, you know?” (Pitchfork Media, 5/07/07)

NELS: "The thing about Jeff is that he has this really probing mind and also a thorough knowledge of what it is he does and a grounding in [musical] tradition. He's very conceptual...and also like the rest of us -- certainly like me -- not comfortable all the time. He's alienated. [laughs] He's just trying to make it all work. I think ultimately he'll always do exactly what he wants, but sometimes he makes it seem like he has doubts or he's unsure...I'm not always sure he really is unsure." (from Wilco: Ashes of American Flags DVD)

Nels and Jeff [Photo via OC Register]

SCOTT: “There are the fucking jazz improv/creative music fascists that are like, ‘I don’t get why he’s in that band.”…If you know Nels, you know the most important listening moments in his life were related to rock and roll. That was the shit he grew up on: The Byrds and Hendrix and Beggar’s Banquet. He is a rock and roll guitar player and that shit is so deeply embedded in him…he’s not compromising anything by being in Wilco. I find myself defending him in those ways sometimes.” (Interview, 3/12/10)

Q: “Have you caught any flak from the underground avant-garde cats for playing with Wilco?”
NELS: “Well, ya know, I don’t read what’s on the Internet, and I’m sure somebody was upset at first. A lot of people I know were surprisingly supportive. But they’re not people necessarily in the underground, but other musicians like Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Jenny Scheinman and people like that were really excited about it. They love Wilco. Mr. Frisell thought immediately, “What a great match.” I wasn’t even thinking that at first. I was thinking, “How’s this going to work?” (Denver Westword, 7/09/08)

wilco = boring
Nels Cline Singers = :O)
(post on Harmony Central Musician community forum, 1/30/10)

The fact that Nels Cline ended up joining Wilco has got to give you hope. Some things do work out. Some things can be good. (Brian Smith, Portland Mercury, 10/12/06)

The charges came, but they were marginalized, and the response to Cline's work on Wilco's A Ghost Is Born tour was overwhelmingly positive. Typically saddled with tossed-off AM radio mentions and the occasional Neil Young nod, Wilco were now drawing comparisons to Sonic Youth and Can and garnering effusive reviews for an increasingly exploratory live show. (Sam Ubl, Pitchfork Media, 11/10/04)

The show's biggest surprise was the performance of the band's new "guitar slinger," Nels Cline. Having little to zero knowledge of the man's career and even less of what he sounded like, this reviewer went into the show with a hefty amount of skepticism about others' comments on Cline's guitar prowess. After that night I can safely say that those who sang his praises ahead of time were short-changing the man. Cline is quite possibly the most amazing guitar player in this day and time. He's a man who instinctively knows when to highlight, when to hang back, when to accentuate and when to let go. Everything he did onstage that night was dead on and the band is better for his inclusion. (Brett Hickman, review of Nels’ first show with Wilco (2nd night) at Otto’s in DeKalb, IL, Glorious Noise, 5/2/04)

I first saw him live with the band in late 2004, not too long after he joined. I've seen Wilco in concert twice since, and all three times I've seen them Nels has been the obvious focal point on stage. If you're facing the band, he's always off towards the right fiddling with pedals and playing as intensely as he possibly can. The most noticeable aspect of his stage presence is how physically, viscerally expressive he is. His entire body is caught up in the work of playing guitar. (post on Rolling Nels Cline Thread, 8/25/09)

NELS: “I thought [Wilco] was going to be one of those rock bands where I'd have to figure out how to work out everything that they'd recorded previously and slavishly reproduce it, because many rock bands do that, and then you end up working the same songs over and over again for hours. It's really not like that in Wilco. There's no stylistic agenda -- pretty much anything goes, which is perfect for me.” (San Francisco Bay Guardian, 11/04/04)

JEFF TWEEDY: "[Our] concept of the studio will eventually be to be able to hit 'record' at any time -- whatever's happening in the room -- and leave a certain amount of stuff miked up all the time, so we can just go, 'all right, wow, let's document that.' That, to me, is an ideal way to work." (from The Wilco Book)

Q: "How many guitars do you own?"
NELS: "You know, I’m actually not sure, because I didn’t used to own a lot of guitars before I joined Wilco. Jeff Tweedy is a terrible influence on me. I might have about 45." (Anne Erickson, Premier Guitar, 5/10)

Cline, an L.A. born-and-bred guitarist of infinite variations, proceeded to spew his electric load all over live renditions of Ghost songs, in effect challenging Tweedy to jerk off with his own guitar-playing, which suddenly was possessed by Neil Young circa Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. By accident or by design, Tweedy had, in Cline, installed a permanent challenge to his already ‘A’ game. (Michael Hoinski, Village Voice, 5/08/09)

NELS: “I play lap steel some nights more than others, delving into some of their older material, which I like to call the ‘corn-fed rockers,’ and some of the folk-rock material is semiacoustic a lot of the time. I've kind of ramped up the noise factor on some of the older rock songs, like from Summer Teeth, and everybody seems to like it. I thought it might be too extreme, and I have to admit I walked on eggshells for the first couple weeks to see if people thought this was a little too much. But they like what I'm contributing, and it's almost carte blanche at this point." (San Francisco Bay Guardian, 11/04/04)

Q: “Have you noticed a change in your fan base since joining Wilco?”
NELS: “I didn’t until the Singers toured this year. We sell my CDs at the Wilco merch table, and you know, you sell a few. Certainly playing on the West Coast, it didn’t seem very different because I play on the West Coast a lot…but boy, traveling through the Midwest like the Singers just did? Man, oh man, there would have been no one at those gigs if not for Wilco. I think the Wilco audience is coming out of curiosity, and also support, and they seem to like it OK. I think the people that leave are those that come expecting it to be a jazz group.” (Dave Paulson, Nashville Tennessean, 7/13/08)

SCOTT: “Definitely there was a change in the audience almost right off the bat. After Nels established his place in Wilco and the Singers started playing out again, we started seeing a lot of ‘Uncle Wilco’ showing up at our shows, and the cool part was that they stayed. That’s the way with this music in order for it to survive.” (Interview, 3/12/10)


DEVIN: “Nowadays we get people coming up to us saying, ‘I thought you’d sound more like Wilco.’ But that’s pretty rare. Usually, it’s people who were tuned on to something they hadn’t expected—and really liked it.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

At the end of the performance he thanked the audience for their ears, and a voice in the crowd called out “What’s left of them!” (John Kelman, review of the Singers at International Festival Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, All About Jazz, 5/19/05)

[Nels] is a frightening figure to observe from the photo pit. His pinky finger is longer than my sister’s hand. (Ted Scheinman, Washington City Paper, 3/31/10)

To be honest, Cline often looks like a character from Shutter Island armed with a 12-string Telecaster Thinline. (Mark Shanahan, Boston Globe, 4/07/10)

Random Detail: During Cline’s set, an incredibly inebriated guy behind me yelled out, “I’ve listened to jazz before, but I’ve never heard anything like this!” (Dave Herrera, review of the Singers at the Bluebird Theatre, Denver Westword, 7/14/08)


The first night ended with a truly incredible performance by the Nels Cline Singers…Although they began with some soft, spacious improv, they built it up to some rather scary and extremely intense proportions. Nels sculpted an over-the-top noise solo in which he sampled and manipulated layers of feedback. It was breathtaking and a bit overwhelming, yet well focused. Devin Hoff is a newer name for many of us…He took one of the best bass solos on the entire fest, plucking, bending and bowing the strings until they cried out for mercy…Nels took a number of devastating guitar solos that wowed the audience on numerous occasions. Scott Amendola is one the drummers around and played with immense craft throughout. He is also a marvel out sampling, manipulating and looping sounds, adding some strange spice at times. (Bruce Lee Gallanter, review of the Singers at International Festival Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, Downtown Music Gallery, 5/05)

"You're all very strange people." that was Nels Cline's introductory statement before the Singers launched into the first of two blistering sets…Not surprisingly, the venue wasn't anywhere close to capacity. Cline joked towards the end of the first set, "We have another set coming up - please don't leave because then this place would really be empty." A number of folks walked out during the first set, even in the middle of songs - I have to wonder if these were folks expecting Wilco minus Jeff Tweedy or something. I try not to judge by looks alone, but the frat-boy looking dudes with disgruntled expressions on their faces as they quietly left in the middle of a song probably didn't get what they came for. (Brandon Wu, review of the Singers at Paramount Theater, Ground and Sky, 6/06/08)

SCOTT: “The only before-show Nels Cline Singers ritual is that we eat Thai food a lot.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

About three years ago, I went to one of the best shows I've ever seen. A coworker's band was playing at Monkey Mania and he suggested I attend, thinking I might like the headliner, a guitarist named Nels Cline. He was right. Cline and his band, the Singers, played a long set of inspired, bizarre, powerful music that left me in a daze. I had never seen anything like it, and I started buying all the recordings of his music I could find. (Ian Douglas-Moore, UCD Advocate, 11/16/06)

Scott Amendola [Photo by Abigail Picache]

The crowd at Café du Nord, while loving the many tasty solos, seemed mildly befuddled by the Singers' use of noise and the lack of congealed song forms. For example, there were several "Are we supposed to clap now?" moments of awkward applause, several clusters of people who left early, and even one fan covering her ears. Maybe people were hoping for something closer to Wilco. The jazz covers they played (including 3 Ornette Coleman tunes in a row) were far from the comparatively ordinary rock music Nels Cline is known for making with Jeff Tweedy. Several of the songs they played were written by various legends of the Bay Area's avant-jazz scene, but none of the names Nels Cline mentioned seemed to ring a bell for more than a handful of audience members (I was not among those whose bells were rung). At the end of the second set, Nels Cline emphatically reminded the audience that bassist Devon Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola are Bay Area residents, as if chastising us for not showing greater appreciation for our neighborly musical titans. (Wiretap Music review of the Singers at Café du Nord, San Francisco, 10/25/07)

I'm sure there were several musicians in the audience who went straight home to practice after getting leveled by the Nels Cline Singers. (Jeff Bissell, Wiretap Music review of same Singers show, 11/07/07)

Devin Hoff [Photo via The Live Music Report]

just got back from seeing the nels cline singers in west L.A. in the courtyard of the hamer museum.
it sounded wierd hearing the singers in a outdoor venue, and the rack and floor toms weren't mic'd. but all in all it sounded great. the singers played two 50 minuet sets. don't have a set list (some jerk stole it off the stage before i could ask for it). but for those who care here's what i remember.
two compositions from the inkling
a mug like this (very streched out)
square king (face melting!!!!)
something about david h. (emotionaly powerful)
2 unamed pieces
and a few others i can't remember the names of
(Jambase forum review, 8/18/06)

Happy Sweaty Nels! [Photo via The Live Music Report]

That band name has misled many a fan of vocals, to be sure. Last time Nels Cline Singers came through Toronto my roommate met a fellow at the show who knew nothing of the band & was there for the voices. He left 5 minutes after they started. (posted comments on IckMusic, 7//13/07)

Perhaps influenced by his new spot in the Uncle Wilco klieg lights, Nels decides to resurrect an old idea from the Alligator Lounge days: The Conceptual Tribute.

NELS: “I never saw Andrew [Hill] play in Los Angeles, I can’t even remember if he did anything beside solo piano there in the 70’s. I just knew the recordings, so the motivation for doing the [new] record was really to play with Devin and Scott from the Singers, plus Ben Goldberg and Andrea [Parkins] and Bobby Bradford in a group wherein the music would not be mine. Something different. And I wanted to pay homage to a living master, somebody I felt who was perhaps overlooked - in a more mainstream sense. Certainly Andrew is well known to the jazz cognoscenti, but he’s not well known, even as we look back with rosy tinted glasses on at the Blue Note era; there’s been a lot of lip service to that.” (IckMusic, 11/22/06)

Andrew Hill [Photo by Jos L. Knaepen]

In the midst of this latest spate of public acclaim, Hill suffered a heart attack in 2004, which led to the discovery of lung cancer. The illness has done little to diminish Hill’s spirit. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. “It’s opened me up to the beauty of life instead of all the terrible preemptive things,” said Hill in a recent Downbeat profile, a statement that reflects the enduring magic of his music. (San Francisco Jazz Festival Program Notes, 10/06)

JEFF GAUTHIER (producer): “When we started recording Nels’ Andrew Hill album and thinking about it, we didn’t even know that Andrew was sick. Once we got a little farther along in the project, we found out that Andrew was sick, at which point we kind of reconsidered: ‘Do we really want to do this? If it comes out after Andrew dies, it might be perceived as something that it’s not.’ We really just wanted to honor Andrew while he was alive. But we decided this is our intention, and this is what it’s gonna be. And luckily we had Andrew’s cooperation all through it.” (MetalJazz, 6/20/08)

This expanded version of the Singers release the intriguingly titled New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill, on September 12, 2006. Just over a month later, they land a slot opening for Andrew Hill at the San Francisco Jazz Festival on October 29, 2006…..playing the music of Andrew Hill.

NELS: “Yeah, that was daunting. I was definitely setting myself up for…‘Hi everybody, we’re going to play Andrew’s music and then Andrew’s going to come on.’ And of course it’s just one of those things I had to say yes to, even though, as I said, sort of setting myself up for a…potentially negative scenario. Not in terms of Andrew, but in terms of critics or audience. But I think it went okay…I had met Andrew Hill many many years ago, just in passing, at a jazz festival in Macedonia when I was there with Gregg Bendian. He’s just a delightful man, and he’s in very frail health these days, but he was really interested in what we were doing, and he was really kind about it, and then, crucially, his set was fantastic and wonderful and beautiful.” (IckMusic, 11/22/06)


Cline's incredibly avant-garde ensemble paid tribute to the compositions penned by the evening's headliner, but the melodies were almost unrecognizable; the chirping horns, billowing accordion, schizophrenic percussion and Cline's own roaring electric guitar created a beast of their own. Hill himself stood watching from the wings, surely touched and dumbfounded in equal measure. (Gabe Melene, Petaluma Bohemian, 12/22/07)

Cline's long been something of a an outsider to the jazz world, prone to sabotaging his own work with noise and dissonance, so it makes perfect sense that he should take on the work of the maverick pianist and composer Andrew Hill. Leading a boisterous sextet, leant strange new colours to Andrea Parkins' electric accordion, Cline crams 12 Hill compositions into seven tracks, amalmagating tunes into mini-medleys that deconstruct the originals with crunching guitar skronk and interludes of skewed intensity. At the same time, these unexpected arrangements throw the eccentric poise of the compositions into new light, letting Hill's singular genius shine through. So, while "Compulsion" comes on like a slice of Sonic Youth-like distorto-rock, the classic "The Rumproller" is tackled with an almost tongue-in-cheek, rip-roaring exuberance and Parkins' accordion drone on "Dance with Death" thrillingly accentuates Hill's masterfully funereal chord sequence. This is much more than your average tribute album. (Daniel Spicer, Jazzwise, Dec/Jan 2007)

The New Monastery crew in New York. From Left: Bobby Bradford, Ben Goldberg, Nels, Devin [Photo by Richard Termine]

A smattering of applause:

Village Voice – #4 Best Jazz CD of 2006 (overall). 7 critics put New Monastery on their lists.

New York Times – #6 on Nate Chinen’s Top 10 list.

Time Out-New York – #9 on Hank Shteamer’s ‘Best Records of 2006.’

San Francisco Gate – One of Derk Richardson’s ‘Best Music of 2006.’

All About Jazz – 6 critics put New Monastery on their Top 10 lists.

Pop Matters – Will Layman included New Monastery in his ‘Best Jazz of 2006’ list.

Avant Music News – #1 ‘AMN Top Releases of 2006.’

JazzTimes – 5 critics put New Monastery on their Top 10 lists.

[Photo by Peak]

In the current downtime between collecting critical accolades for last September’s New Monastery: A View into the Music of Andrew Hill, touring with Wilco and playing upcoming gigs with ROVA: OrkestRova, Toshi Makihara, Scott Amendola AND Glenn Kotche, our wandering axeman Nels Cline dropped by Crypto studios in his blue Volvo station wagon for a snow-flurry of recording sessions for the next upcoming Nels Cline Singers CD, tentatively due out on Cryptogramophone sometime in May 2007. As always with Our Man N., there was a healthy does of manic energy, creative sparks, reservoirs of angst, bizarre references to Dick Tracy characters – and of course, cosmically brilliant playing. We realize that we work at the label and all that and OF COURSE WE'D SAY THAT but seriously, dudeman, we're not just blowing smoke! We even phoned our Main Squeeze and held out the receiver towards the recording studio. “Are you standing next to a jet engine?” she inquired. “No,” we said. “That’s Nels.” (Crypto Blog, posted 1/22/07)


Recording sessions took place Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (January 7-9) at Castle Oaks Studios in Calabasas, with Crypto engineering extraordinaire Rich Breen and our own Fearless Leader Jeff Gauthier standing over him wearing huge Phil Spector sunglasses and waving a pistol… (No no, just kidding, Jeff doesn’t wear sunglasses.) All told, the sessions were around 30+ hours spread out over the three days. Nels arrived on Monday feeling a bit shagged after just getting over a cold, so he was a bit concerned about his energy level. But as soon as the downbeat started at around 12:30pm, his Fender Jazzmaster lit up like a soldering iron…Tuesday was even better, as the boys got an earlier start and were joined by a trio of top local percussionists: Danny Frankel, Brad Dutz and Louis Conte. “They made a great recording of a tune called ‘Revenge of the Pinata,’ which was a reference to a tune on Instrumentals, the first Nels Cline Singers CD called ‘Ghost of the Pinata’,” says Jeff Gauthier. “They also ran down a Thelonious Monk tune called ‘Jackie-ing’” just before ruining our excitement by adding: “Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to fit it on the [upcoming] CD.” Jeez-Louise, Fearless Leader, tickle our arse with a feather whydontcha. “We’ll probably release ‘Revenge of the Pinata’ as a MP3, or something like that,” Jeff said. Ahh. That’s better. (Crypto Blog, posted 1/22/07)


SCOTT: “Our first three records were all recorded pretty quickly. When we were done with [sessions for the third] – a day early I think – the next morning we went in and tried this new arrangement of an old tune, and then the next morning after that, Nels wanted to record a bunch of improv where he wanted to play his new Howard Roberts guitar [laughs]. It was flowing!” (Interview, 3/12/10)

NELS: When I was 18, I went to a series of "Master Guitar Seminars" with some leading guitarists - mostly jazz guys [including Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Stewart, Mundell Lowe][The only] positive thing I came away with at the seminar: Howard Roberts, the late, great jazz and session guitarist (I was already a fan of his wacky records like Equinox Express Elevator at the time) had addressed an aspect or two of this very issue weeks earlier. When asked about pick/hand/arm technique, he said (behind his everpresent dark glasses [Roberts’ eyes were hypersensitive to light]): “Suppose you want to write your name REAL SMALL. You'd probably only use the tiniest finger movements.” (He went to the chalkboard and wrote his name as tiny as possible - indeed Mr. Roberts' technique with the pick often really did resemble someone handwriting, so this was no empty doctrine.) “Now, suppose you want to write your name REAL BIG. You might need to use your WHOLE ARM to do it!” (He then, with his arm stiff, wrote his name in letters 3 feet tall, using huge, arcing motions.) “You see?!!? Heheheheheh!!!!” (He had a crazy person laugh). I loved Howard Roberts for this moment. (nelscline.com)


The Castle Oak sessions yielded not one but TWO album’s worth of material. The real fun started when Nels found – and subsequently fell head over boots in love with – an old (1977) Howard Roberts model Gibson guitar model at Truetone Music in Santa Monica. “Vintage!” Nels added. “Just like its owner.” He brought it back over the hill and he, Devin and Scott simply turned on the tape and bashed out an entire album’s worth of improvised jazz using the newfound guitar, of course. And here’s the catch: all present played with no overdubs, no effects, no techno-frippery. The 13 (!!) tracks that resulted don’t even have names yet. Fresh-baked art – hot from the oven! (Crypto Blog, posted 1/22/07)

NELS: “We had time already paid for, so we went back and took 45-50 minutes out of our day and played a series of slightly directed improvisations where I’d say something to Scott like, ‘Start on brushes and then we’ll go to something with sticks, or ‘a latin groove,’ or ‘think about Howard Roberts’ sunglasses’…anything to get the ball rolling. I didn’t know, maybe I’ll stream it on my website or something. But I also think we can do something even better.” (Interview, 3/05/10)

Howard Roberts

DEVIN: “Maybe we’ll release that stuff on our reunion tour. But then we’d have to break up.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

Exactly one month to the day after these productive sessions, Nels groggily awakes to find himself anointed a God.

Will he have to get bigger shoes – if that’s even possible?

Will he have to send his guitar to Minneapolis to be restrung?

Find out in our NEXT CONCLUDING POST!! Or not. Up to you.

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Adam Rudolph Alex Cline's Band of the Moment Alex Cline; Nels Cline: Alex & Nels Cline; Downbeat; Continuation; Coward Alma Lisa Fernandez Andrew Hill Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 1) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 2) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Photos Antonio Sanchez avant-garde Bard Hoff Ben Goldberg Bennie Maupin Bennie Maupin & Dolphyana Bill Stewart Billy Childs Jazz-Chamber Ensemble Billy Corgan Billy Hart Black Metal Bob Sheppard Brent Hoff California Jazz Foundation Cameron Graves Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band Carla Bozulich Carol Robbins Charles Mingus; Son of Watts Musical Caravan Project; Azar Lawrence; Nate Morgan; Henry Franklin; Alphonse Mouzon; Prayer for My Ancestors Charles Owens Charlie Hunter Chops: The Movie Chris Barton Cryptogramophone Cryptogramophone Records Cryptogramophonr Records Cryptonight Darek Oles Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy David Anderson Pianos David Breskin David Witham Denman Maroney Dennis Callaci Devin Hoff Dirty Baby Double M Jazz Salon Downbeat 57th Annual Critics Poll draw breath Dwight Trible Eagle Rock Center for the Arts Eclipse Quartet Ed Ruscha Edward Vesala Electric Lodge Eric Dolphy Eric Von Essen First Friday Series at the Museum of Neon Art G.E. Stinson Geraldine Fibbers Glenn Kotche Global Village Monday with Maggie LePique Go: Organic Orchestra Gravitas Quartet Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival; Peter Erskine Greg Kot Gregg Bendian Guy Klucevsek Hale Smith Hannah Rothschild Hans Fjellstad Harry Partch; L.A. Weekly; John Schneider; REDCAT Horace Tapscott Horace Tapscott; Horace Tapscott Tribute Concert; Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra; the Ark; Jazz Bakery; Ruth Price; Jesse Sharps; Austin Peralta; Isaac Smith Howard Roberts Huffington Post Hugh Hopper Ikeda Kings Orchestra improvisation Initiate Instrumentals Ivan Cotton James Newton Jason Robinson Jay Bennett Jay Hoggard jazz Jazz at the Plgrimage Jazz Bakery Jazz Explosion III Jazz Journey with Eddie B. Jeff Gauthier Jeff Tweedy Jesse Sharps Jim Black Joe Zawinul John "Drumbo" French John Fumo Kamasi Washington Ken Coomer Ken Kawamura KJAZZ 88.1-FM KPFK 90.7-FM KXLU 88.9-FM L. Stinkbug Larry Goldings Larry Karush Larry Koonse Learning How To Die Leimert Park: The Roots and Branches of L.A. Jazz Les Paul Lester Bowie Lily Burk Memorial Live at the Atelier Los Angeles New Music Ensemble Los Angeles Times Luis Bonilla Maggie Parkins Marcus Rojas Mark Dresser Mark Linkous Mark Zaleski Mel Morris Michael Davis Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Mimi Melnick Motoko Honda Museum of Neon Art Museum of Neon Art; MONA; Many Axes; Susan Rawcliffe; Scott Wilkinson; Brad Dutz music blog Myra Melford Nasheet Waits Natsuki Tamura Nels Cline Nels Cline Singers Nels Cline Singers with Jeff Parker Nestor Torres New Monastery Nick Rosen OC Creative Music Collective Oguri Open Gate Theatre Sunday Concert Series Pannonica Rothschild Peggy Lee Peter Bernstein Phil Ranelin Phillip Greenlief plays monk Rashied Ali ResBox at the Steve Allen Theater RIch Breen Rich Breen RISE with Mark Maxwell Roberto Miranda Rod Poole Ron MIles Ron Saint Germain Royal/T Cafe Ruth Price Sara Parkins Sara Schoenbeck Sarah Thornblade SASSAS Satoko Fujii Scott Amendola Scott Colley Shrimper Records Sky Saxon Tribute Sonship Theus Soul Jazz Records Sparklehorse Spirit Moves Spirits in the Sky Steuart Liebig Terry Riley The Gathering The Giant Pin The Jazz Bakery The Jazz Baroness The JazzCat with Leroy Downs The Nels Cline Singers The Nels Cline Trio Thelonious Monk Thomas Stones Tom McNalley Tony Allen Tribe Records Trilogy Van Morrison; Astral Weeks; Scott Foundas; Jan Steward; Music Cirle; SASSAS Vincent Chancey Wayne Horvitz Wayne Peet Wilco Wilco; Nels Cline Wilco; Wilco (The Album); Nels Cline Will Salmon Yankee Hotel Foxtrot