4 - New Releases Archives

June 5, 2007

Welcome to

Hey there, welcome to Downbeast. Check in for the latest in avant-garde, improvisational jazz music rants, musings, reviews, and more. From Cryptogramophone Records, is a new music blog concept we hope you enjoy.

June 11, 2007

Exclusive Preview of "The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath"

We can finally see the horizon on Cryptogramophone's upcoming Summer 2007 releases: Spinning the Circle from pianist/Goatettee David Witham and The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath from...oh, you know. The drop date for both is JUNE 26th.

With barely two weeks left, we've already pre-released tracks from the new Nels Cline CD -- "Caved-in Heart Blues," "Mixed Message," "Recognize II" and "Confection" -- on Nels' MySpace page and the Crypto homesite. We also decided to get a jump on the reviewers and offer "pre-reviews" of both for your dining and dancing pleasure. [WARNING: Mixed metaphors will be used]

Continue reading "Exclusive Preview of "The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath"" »

June 13, 2007

Exclusive Preview of David Witham's "Spinning The Circle"

With just fifteen -- no, make that FOURTEEN -- days to go before we double-drop our twin Crypto summer releases The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath and David Witham's Spinning the Circle, we're offering a little preview of each for your audiophilic interest.


Continue reading "Exclusive Preview of David Witham's "Spinning The Circle"" »

June 20, 2007

"MAKIN' A RACKET": An Exclusive Interview with David Witham, Pt. I

David Witham is a monster musician—and we mean not just his in-demand chops but the fact that the guy is around 6' 6'' with a big booming voice, linebacker’s gait and ham-sized hands that can lightly caress the 88 keys on a piano and then crush a metal napkin dispenser.


Continue reading ""MAKIN' A RACKET": An Exclusive Interview with David Witham, Pt. I" »

June 25, 2007

“LIGHT AT NIGHT”: An Exclusive Crypto Interview with David Witham, Pt. 2


Spinning The Circle, David Witham’s second solo album since 1988’s self-released On-Line, shows the pianist’s versatility with jazz, world beat, and jamband influenced originals—from the breakbeat electronica of "The Neon" to the gentle balladry of "Who Knows." But he brings some heavy-hitters along for the ride. “My associations with the members of this ensemble span the last thirty-some years, basically the course of my musical career thus far,” Witham writes in the liner notes. They include guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Scott Amendola are both on board, as are pedal steel guitarist (and frequent Bill Frisell collaborator) Greg Leisz, bassist Jay Anderson, woodwind player Jon Crosse, and percussionist Luis Conte.

Continue reading "“LIGHT AT NIGHT”: An Exclusive Crypto Interview with David Witham, Pt. 2" »

July 19, 2007

Nels gets more L-U-V from critics, bloggers, your mom...

It's been about a month since we dropped the deux Crypto releases The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath and David Witham's Spinning The Circle. Recently, Nels was profiled by Siddhartha Mitter of the Boston Globe. Check it out here.


Continue reading "Nels gets more L-U-V from critics, bloggers, your mom..." »

July 30, 2007

Review round-up of David Witham's "Spinning The Circle"

After finishing up his May/June mini-tour with George Benson, our rez piano wizard David Witham is currently on tour with the Ernie Watts Quartet. (He has a cool blog about life as a touring artist, which you can check out on his MySpace page.)


Continue reading "Review round-up of David Witham's "Spinning The Circle"" »

April 4, 2008

Boppin' with Maupin

Yes, we realize that the word "legendary" -- especially in jazz and blues circles -- is tossed around to the point where it nearly becomes meaningless, but it sure doesn't apply when it comes to multi-reedist/composer/bandleader Bennie Maupin.

The Maestro

For anyone who wants to see the master in action, Mr. Bennie will celebrate the release of his new recording Early Reflections on Cryptogramophone Records, Friday, April 18th at Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA. There will be two sets, at 8:00 PM and 10:00PM.

As anyone with a modem should know by now, Bennie Maupin's "comeback" (one might argue the man never left) came in a one-two punch with the release of the critically lauded Penumbra in 2006 and the re-release of his classic 1974 album The Jewel in the Lotus last year. Early Reflections is a beautiful recording of Maupin's Polish quartet featuring Michal Tokaj on piano (Tomasz Stanko's pianist), and guest vocalist Hania Rybka on two tracks. Joining Maupin, Tokaj and Rybka for this performance will be bassist Darek Oles, drummer Michael Stephans, and percussionist Munyungo Jackson. The ensemble will also be performing in New York City at the Jazz Standard, April 26-27 as a part of Cryptonights at Jazz Standard. Early Reflections will be released April 22nd.

Continue reading "Boppin' with Maupin" »

April 8, 2008

Nels Announces New Dates/Record

(OK, he didn't announce them personally -- we got a forwarded email. But hey, the guy's busy...)

(Cool photo, Daniel Brielmaier!)

Anyhoo, barely decompressing after Wilco's Spring 2008 tour, Nels Cline will drag his "Singers"
-- bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott "Pops" Amendola -- out on the road for a brief early Summer sprint.

6/01 The Dakota (Minneapolis, MN)
6/02 High Noon Saloon (Madison, WI)
6/03 Martyr’s (Chicago, IL)
6/04 The Jazz Kitchen (Indianapolis, IN)
6/05 The Ark (Ann Arbor, MI)
6/06 Paramount Theatre (Charlottesville, VA)
6/08 Suoni per II Popolo Festival (Montreal, Quebec)

Mr. Cline will go into the studio next week ("at an undisclosed location" -- hopefully not the same one Dick Cheney uses) to record his next solo Crypto drop. Tentative title: Coward. (Release date: TBA.) As if this is any surprise, he'll also be playing out in L.A. a few dates next week with Banyan.

April 16, 2008

The Tofurky™ Sessions

"If you start it well and end it well, it doesn't matter what you do in the middle."
-Our Fearless Leader

As of Sunday night -- as far as we know -- O.C.D. ("Original Crypto Drummmer") Alex Cline's new record Continuation -- his first since 2001's The Constant Flame -- is in the can!

"Baba" Cline [Photo by Ethan Pines]

Rehearsals took place at Crypto Central on Thursday & Friday (April 10 & 11) and recording took place at the wisteria-covered Glenwood Place Studios in Burbank on Saturday & Sunday (April 12 & 13). Present for the sessions were Myra Melford on piano and harmonium, Fearless Leader Jeff Gauthier on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Scott Walton on bass and Rich Breen on the mixing board -- not to mention bassist/Buddhist John Graves (who kindly converted the charts into digitally rendered notation via Finale software) and photog Anne Fishbein, who crept with stealth around the action to snap album pics.

Continue reading "The Tofurky™ Sessions" »

April 18, 2008

L.A. Times ♥♥♥ Crypto

Local avant-garde jazz record company Cryptogramophone celebrates its milestone with a retrospective.
by Gina McIntyre, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Jeff Gauthier, president of the Culver City-based jazz factory Cryptogramophone, has spent the last 10 years releasing the work of avant-garde performers with a passion for both improvisation and melody -- people like percussionist Alex Cline, bassist Mark Dresser and bass clarinet player and saxophonist Bennie Maupin, the last of whom appeared on classic albums like Miles Davis' 1969 electric landmark Bitches Brew and popular '70s recordings with Herbie Hancock's Headhunters.

Da Crypto Boyz (photo by Anne Fishbein)

It was an unlikely turn for the former classical and studio violinist, who admits that his father had suggested he might want to study business at one point -- just in case. But Gauthier felt strongly that these artists deserved wider exposure, and after a friend, bassist Eric von Essen, who played with Gauthier in the seminal '80s chamber-jazz group Quartet Music, died from heart failure in 1997, he was determined to take action.

Continue reading "L.A. Times ♥♥♥ Crypto" »

April 22, 2008

Oh-de-Doo-da Drop Day

OK, the taxes have been paid; the checks are in the mail. Time for some enjoyment; time for YOU. As it so turns out, today's YOUR day: both Bennie Maupin's Early Reflections (review) and the Crypto 10th Anniversary comp Assemblage, 1998-2008 (review) are out-out-OUT. Why not treat yourself? I mean, we already have copies...



We caught Mr. Maupin with his awesome (as in "awe-inspiring") new band at their much-publicized gig at Catalina's last Friday. (Check out a review here.) This killer ensemble -- pianist Michal Tokaj, bassist Darek Oles, percussionist Munyungo Jackson, drummer Michael Stephans -- performed cooking versions of ER's "Escondido" and "Inner Sky." But the highlight (at least in Your Humble Blogger's ears) was when Bennie brought out the lovely and bewitching Polish folk singer Hania Chowaniec-Rybka (flown in from Warsaw!) to improvise on extended versions of "ATMA" and "Spirits of the Tatras." The proud Poles in the audience (and there were quite a few -- Solidarność!) cheered loudly and pounded their tables. One can only imagine the turnout this weekend when Mr. Maupin closes out Crypto's 10th Anniv. celebration at The Jazz Standard in New York. Unlike last year, YHB will not be attending, but I'd like to put out the call for anyone in the 5 Boroughs who plan on attending any of this week's concerts to post any of your experiences on our "Comments" board. We won't even correct the spelling. Honest!

Maestro Maupin will be busy elsewhere soon on another cool project with recently-relocated-to-UCLA Mr. James Newton, showcasing the music of L.A. native son Eric Dolphy with vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, drummer Billy Hart, and our own Darek Oles. (It's pronounced "Dah-rek," not "Deh-rek" -- and don't ever make that mistake boyo.) The ensemble will play at the upcoming Heraldsburg Jazz Festival and record an album for old friend ECM. What's particularly exciting about "Celebrating Eric Allan Dolphy" -- besides the titanic talent involved, of course -- is that the group will be resurrecting music left behind by Dolphy when he embarked on his 1964 tour of Europe with the Charles Mingus sextet. (And, as we know, didn't come back.)

Last weekend, we tuned into NPR's Off Ramp with John Rabe and stumbled upon "My Teacher Alma," which profiled the great pianist/teacher Alma Hightower. It's short but sweet, and a nice intro for those interested in a bit of Black L.A. musical history.

May 7, 2008

Ah, That New CD Smell

We got 'em! The next Crypto releases have come back from the pressing plant and we've literally just ripped the cellophane off of the Jeff Gauthier Goatette's House of Return and Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors. Drop day is June 10, but here's a little preview of both. First up, House of Return:

Fancy the cover art? It's by Nels' friend Angela DeCristofaro

Continue reading "Ah, That New CD Smell" »

May 12, 2008

That New CD Smell 2: Semi-Acoustic Boogaloo

We've just torn the wrapper off Tiny Resistors, Todd Sickafoose’s new Crypto drop that will hit all Capitalist Aural-Stimuli Dispensing Centers on JUNE 10TH.

cover art by Grady McFerrin & Gareth Jiffeau

Todd is familiar to most alt-music hounds in his role as righteous babe Ani DiFranco's house bassist for eight touring months out of the year—indeed, no less than The New Yorker called him “Ani DiFranco’s secret weapon.” (Go here for a short clip of them performing "Coming Up" from Imperfectly at Ann Arbor in 2006.) Mr. Sick is a versatile chap whose two previous solo records as a leader show his interest in obliterating the musical boundaries between jazz, chamber music, punk, folk, indie rock, and experimental electronic improvisation—or, more to the point, creating new ways of joining and bridging such disparate musical styles. It reminds me of a line from the LA Weekly’s fireplug music critic Greg Burk: “There are no styles any more, only music.”

Continue reading "That New CD Smell 2: Semi-Acoustic Boogaloo" »

May 25, 2008

House of Return

Hey Kids. Here's a taste of the new CD, "House of Return" by the Jeff Gauthier Goatette, to be released June 10th. It features Nels Cline on Guitar, Alex Cline on drums, David Witham on keyboards, and Gauthier on violin and electric violin. Check it out. To order this CD, please go to


May 30, 2008

Review Round-Up: Bennie Maupin's Early Reflections


Continue reading "Review Round-Up: Bennie Maupin's Early Reflections" »

June 2, 2008

Our Fearless Leader "Returns" To Live Performance

OK, he never really left, but it's been a few months since Jeff Gauthier has played out in his hometown.

2/5s of the Goatette: Jeff Gauthier & David Witham

O.F.L. will celebrate the release of his new CD House of Return on Thursday evening, June 26 at 8PM at The Palmer Room (3387 Motor Ave. in West Los Angeles, behind Cucina Paradiso). Tickets will be $10 at the door for two sets. There will be a full bar and a special bar menu for concertgoers. This concert will be recorded live to video by DiMarkco Chandler. For more information please call 213-276-6461. House of Return features pianist David Witham, bassist Joel Hamilton, drummer/percussionist Alex Cline and guitarist Nels Cline and will be released June 10, 2008.


Jeff and pianist David Witham will also be playing MONA in an evening of electronic and acoustic soundscapes inspired by neon art. On Friday, June 6th at 8PM, these two wacky fellows will take inspiration from MONA's extensive collection of rare and unusual neon art, and use it as a launching pad for electronic and acoustic duo-improvisations. The concert will take place at the Museum of Neon Art (136 W. 4th St., in Downtown LA's burgeoning arts district). Parking is available on the street, and in adjacent parking lots. Tickets are $10 at the door.

June 10, 2008

New Releases From Cryptogramophone


On Tiny Resistors, bassist and composer Todd Sickafoose matches violinist/looper Andrew Bird and iconic singer Ani DiFranco with his 8-piece New York band (with Skerik and Adam Levy) to create a jazz record with the muscle and scope of an indie-rock orchestra. The music evokes images: the mysterious flora of a future epoch, a secret message scribbled in invisible ink, an exodus of buzzing bees, and the silent sadness of an underwater piano, drowned in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. It is these visions, and others, that inspire the 11 original compositions on Tiny Resistors, Sickafoose's third and most lushly-produced release to date.

House of Return, Jeff Gauthier's 5th recording as a leader, moves effortlessly from moody acoustic jazz to creative new music, to skronk fusion and electronic space jam. Voted a "Rising Star" as violinist and producer in the 2007 Downbeat Critics Poll, Gauthier continues his subversive plot to destroy all musical boundaries. House of Return features Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, drummer Alex Cline, pianist David Witham, and bassist Joel Hamilton.

Go to to find CDs by Bennie Maupin, Nels Cline, Alex Cline, Trio M, David Witham, Alan Pasqua, Myra Melford, Ben Goldberg, Scott Amendola, Mark Dresser and others. Also check out where you can find creative jazz from over 200 different artists.

June 26, 2008

See Jeff / Free Chip

Wow, here's a pair of odd bedfellows for your plans this weekend: Jeff Gauthier and Chip Fitzgerald.


Tonight at 8pm our Fearless Leader continues his subversive plot to destroy all musical boundaries by leading his Goatette -- keyboardist David Witham, bassist Joel Hamilton and percussionist Alex Cline (no, L.A. Times, Nels will NOT be playing) -- in the CD release party at West L.A.'s Palmer Room for the ensemble's new Crypto drop House of Return. Not to miss -- and I'm not just saying that because he's the boss...hahhhaahahhh (trailing off weakly)

Our friend Greg Burk has a cool metal/jazz blog called, you guessed, it, Metal Jazz. Read his interview with Mr. Gauthier here.


Beginning at noon on Saturday in Leimert Park, at the KAOS Network/Project Blowed space, there will what be a day-long series of events in support of Romaine "Chip" Fitzgerald, the longest incarcerated Black Panther in the United States. (38 years -- and Fitzgerald's parole hearing is set for July 2.) Documentary films will be shown, people will speak -- including former Black Panther Elaine Brown (whose Seize The Time, her 1969 collaboration with Horace Tapscott was just reissued). For more info on Fitzgerald and his case, go here. To read a compelling account of more fallout from that ugly, volatile time in American life, check out Matthew Fleischer's LA Weekly article Children of the Revolutionary.

"When the world is running down..."

Cinema du Musique PostScript: if you're not too tuckered on Sat. night, they're running a new documentary downtown on the glory days of the famed L.A. session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew (California Plaza Amphitheatre, 350 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn; Sat., June 28, 8 p.m. Admission free). Then, have a good sleep (after watching the rebroadcast of the very first Saturday Night Live with the recently vacated first host George Carlin), go check out an early music-film masterpiece in the comfort of an outdoor graveyard. Cinespia will be showing Steve Binder's 1964 concert doc The T.A.M.I. Show, featuring Chuck Berry, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and, of course, the showstopping, career-making performances by Ike & Tina Turner and James Brown. Then, go home and collapse and have someone put a cape over you.

June 28, 2008

The Goatette Pilfers the Palmer


Thursday night's CD release party for the Jeff Gauthier Goatette's House of Return at West L.A.'s Palmer Room was a bit of a surprise. Our fearless leader didn't just showcase tracks from the new record -- "Satellites and Sideburns" (the Nels Cline-penned tribute to Weather Report's Joe Zawinul) and Eric Von Essen's "Dissolution" were particular standouts -- but took the capacity crowd on a pocket journey through his entire five album repertoire, including "Seriously Twisted Blues" from 1994's Internal Memo and the opening song, a sparkling version of "Ephemera," from 2001's Mask, which included a muscular bass solo from Joel Hamilton and an insistent but light-on-its-feet tribal rumble from Alex Cline. Next was a supple take on Eric Von Essen's "Biko's Blues," easily the standout track on the new album as well as the first set. Keyboardist David Witham ruled on the following "Sofflicka"; his electric piano intentionally distorted to create an unsettlingly "dirty' sound, as if the keys were encrusted with sand grit. The biggest surprise was the cover of "From Gagarin's Point of View" by the recently deceased Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson. This in turn led into a short freefall improv (in which Mr. Cline and Mr. Gauthier really shined) that metamorphed into a rollicking "Friends of the Animals" from the new album. (During the show, Mr. Bennie Maupin strolled in, looking incognito in baseball cap and long beige jacket, ordering a cranberry and pineapple juice. Nice touch!)

Luckily, the concert was recorded live to video by our friend DiMarkco Chandler, so we'll get some footage up for you ASAP!

1. Ephemera (For Eric)
2. Biko's Blues
3. Solflicka
4. Gagarin's Point of View / Improv / Friends of the Animals

1. Heart Wisdom (for Thelma)
2. Seriously Twisted Blues (for Richard Grossman)
3. Improv / Dissolution
4. Satellites and Sideburns

(For an even more in-depth review of the show, including some terrific in-performance pics, check out Kellen Yamanaka's blog Song With Orange.)

February 9, 2009

OBLITERATING TIME: The Downbeast Interview with Alex Cline

Alex Cline has a musical sensibility and sensitivity that belong to another time... a time when intimate thoughts were best expressed by someone sitting down, setting pen to paper, and sending their innermost feelings by land or sea, to be read by the intended a few days or weeks later... in short, a time when ‘time’ really counted.
Peter Erskine


Percussionist Alex Cline has a split musical personality, and one half of it is NOT an identical twin named “Nels.” On the one hand he is a timekeeper in the classic jazz tradition, accompanying a Murderer’s Row of lions like Arthur Blythe, Henry Grimes, Charlie Haden, Charles Lloyd, Buddy Collette, Wadada Leo Smith, Marty Ehrlich, Baikida Carroll, Julius Hemphill and Jamil Shabaka as well as the holy L.A. avant-garde triumvirate of Horace Tapscott, John Carter and Bobby Bradford -- and that’s just the tip of the ‘berg.

On the other hand, he creates epic sound experiments with his now-mythic arsenal of percussion instruments (both found and bought) that completely erase the idea of Time As We Know It. Listening to an Alex Cline composition is like being dropped sightless into a cave and being tasked with finding your way out—a sense of dislocation that can be as liberating as it is mysterious and challenging. Michael Bettine of Jazz Review referred to him not as a drummer but “an orchestrator of sounds.” AAJ’s John Kelman confirmed that Cline’s waterfall of sonic textures “are meant to be experienced rather than simply heard.”

“The key thing to what I do,” Alex told L.A. Citybeat’s Kirk Silsbee in 2007, “is two extremes – jazz drum set player and exotic sound-making person. There’s this big expanse in between where unorthodox approaches and rhythmic ideas meet. These are blended vocabularies.”

Alex in action (note the bundt-cake pans on the left)

“Blended vocabularies” may be the key to Cline’s approach, as he is not only a musician/composer but a visual artist, oral historian, teacher, curator for his own music series and composer/collaborator for numerous modern dance-theatre troupes. Oh yes, and he also recently became a daddy.

Not surprisingly, Alex has not made an album as a bandleader/composer since 2001’s The Constant Flame. His new record Continuation (due out tomorrow) is exactly what its title connotes: an extending of the musical ideas he has been exploring since 1987's The Lamp and The Star, his debut as a bandleader. At the same time, he has injected new blood into the proceedings with the creation of the Continuation Quintet, which retains Alex’s familiar collaborators, violinist and Crypto head honcho Jeff Gauthier and bassist Scott Walton, with the addition of cellist Peggy Lee and keyboardist Myra Melford. (Go here for The Beast’s account of Day 2 of the Continuation sessions.)

An homage for those here and beyond resides at the heart of each of the new CD's seven offerings, evoking the shared histories of music and maternity (Nels and Alex’s mother Thelma Cline passed away one day before her 92nd birthday on December 24th, 2007) and the paradoxical celebration of loss, particularly the passings of fellow percussionists Ron George and Dan Morris. (Go here to read Alex's tribute to Dan Morris.)


That the album goes to dark places but doesn't drown in them is not just an example of Cline’s buoyant spirituality but also the addition of his daughter, Naomi Xinwan Padma Cline. Her presence (she is pictured on the album peeking playfully out from the quintet's ranks) injects a vital thread that runs through Continuation like a literal life line. On Continuation, Alex’s compositions and percussion work continue to defy any strict notions of style, geographical region and form, though all come into play in his fluid conceptions. “Nourishing our Roots” and “Open Hands (Receive, Release)” bookend the disc with softly pillowed punctuations of timbre, notes and tones flowing into one another with quiet grace and maturity. Gauthier’s radiantly soft violin, Walton’s stalwartly inventive bass and Lee’s rich cello often sound as one instrument, gliding through Alex’s melodies with calm conviction, Melford’s spacious pianism and washes of harmonium cushioning each sonority. The musicians can breathe fire, as when certain “jazzy” sections of “On the Bones of the Homegoing Thunder” rear up only to be swallowed again by the rumble and pulse of a gong or the endlessly penetrating decay of a triangle or Noah bell. Continuation is replete with such moments, subtle and breathtaking shifts in timbre, texture and mood that bespeak dance, meditation and the way in which polarities merge to form the infinite simplicity invoked in every moment of this stunning collection of music.
(Click here to read John Kelman’s review of Continuation and a video of Alex in action with Vinny Golia and Jie Ma)

The Boys

Then there’s that unavoidable “identical twin” thing he shares with his brother, guitarist Nels—the much published (and perhaps overly fawned over) fact that they became so attuned to each other’s musical sensibilities, especially during their tenure in the chamber-jazz ensemble Quartet Music, that they could literally “tell” what the other was going to play before they played it. Which pretty much made the idea of "improvising" all but moot, and which might have something to do with the fact that the brothers have never made a duo record together and have only performed together as a duo THREE times in the last 35 years. The last time they did was a memorable show last month in San Diego, which drew a capacity crowd matched by the last two times they played together: the mammoth celebrations for their 40th and 50th birthdays.

“Frankly, the novelty of two identical twins making wacky music together has to have some sort of impact on the turnout for those shows,” Alex says. “Nels and I have been doing this since at least the late 1970s, and it’s taken 30 years for people to catch on to this novelty as having any real significance. Somehow it wasn’t so compelling back in the proverbial day. I don’t know why. Downbeat did a profile of us back in 1982 and it wasn’t treated with any kind of sensationalist flair. It really has happened more recently for some reason. I always now look at these things with certain awareness that, to quote my brother, ‘We can thank Uncle Wilco for a certain amount of audience interest.’ Part of it may be just that now we’ve been around long enough and have track records both individually or collectively. Maybe when you get older people feel they ought to do something before you die.” He laughs. “Maybe they feel sorry for you!”
(Go here to read Jeff Gauthier’s essay on “The Twin Unavoidability Factor.")

Downbeast recently sat down with Alex in his L.A. home over a cup of Taiwanese "green" oolong (a.k.a. "spring tea”) while his cats Gordon Lightfoot (no relation) and Fiona slithered around his ankles.

Continue reading "OBLITERATING TIME: The Downbeast Interview with Alex Cline" »

February 10, 2009

C + C Music Factory Now Open For Business

Cline + Cline proudly announce the first time EVER that their seperate (yet strangely singular) efforts have been joined for one release date.


Pick up your freshly minted shrink-wrapped copies of Alex Cline's Continuation and Nels Cline's Coward at IndieJazz, Greenleaf Music, Amazon or the Cryptogramophone Homepage.

Check out an exclusive interview with Alex here and stay tuned for an upcoming exlcusive chat with Nels.

February 12, 2009

“A COOL HEAD DOES NOT ALWAYS PREVAIL”: The Downbeast Interview with Nels Cline

I seek new sounds
because new sounds
seek me

-Joseph Jarman


OK, shall we get the twin thing over with first?

The first time I interviewed them was 10 years ago at the Chado Tea Room in West Hollywood. I watched their interaction over the menu with some fascination as Alex turned to Nels and asked, “Do you need tea guidance?” I also noticed how different they were. Alex seemed like Sting after transcendental meditation or an unusually heavy Tantric workout: calm Zen-master eyes behind wire-rimmed specs, hands folded on lap, carefully thought-out answers. Nels, on the other hand, was like a live electrical wire exposed and wrapped in black tape: intense eyes, intense way of sitting forward and speaking so fast that he interrupted himself, a vaguely tormented air about him, so honest and open that it took me aback a bit. I actually think I saw sparks come out of his head.

That I interviewed them again exactly 10 years later wasn’t planned – it was just one of those bizarre coincidental things that just “happened,” which is par for the course when you are dealing with these gentlemen. Take their current pair of solo projects: Alex’s Continuation and Nels’ Coward, both released this week. Both projects were unintentionally recorded in the same week, both album titles begin with the letter C, and both composers chose paintings by women artists for their album covers. Both albums make references to orchids. Both contain two pieces that are 18 minutes long. Both have one piece that is over 15 years old. Drones are featured in several pieces on both CDs. The original designs of both CD discs were (again, unintentionally) practically identical, although Nels's was changed because of this. Alex's was recorded at Burbank's Glenwood Place, which started out in the 1970s as Kendun Recorders and was where Nels recorded his first album as a leader, Angelica.

And finally, Alex's CD is about 7 minutes longer than Nels's. Not a coincidence, you say? Maybe not, unless you consider that Nels is about 7 minutes older than Alex.

Messes with your head, doesn’t it?

But the concept of "identical twins" is a deceptive one: they reflect back similar states with opposite qualities. Examples: Alex is right-handed, Nels is left-handed; Alex's hair parts naturally on the left; Nels's on the right. The first time either of them had a cavity in their mouths, it was in the same year, opposite teeth. ”Alex and I kind of had different personalities all along, but we kind of switched at one point," Nels told an interviewer in 2003. "Alex was pretty affable and gregarious in elementary school and junior high...I was more reserved growing up and I kind of came out of my shell in my early 20s. Most people who meet me now can’t believe there was a time when I rarely spoke in social situations.”


Again, what is most striking about the Clines' new CDs is the individuality of their expressions. In both cases the music is intensely personal, and obliquely autobiographical. Yet despite the above coincidences, one is amazed by how radically different Nels and Alex's musical expressions are. Nels's CD is a solo/overdub effort, perhaps more rooted in the acoustic side of his musicianship than many of his fans might expect. He plays a plethora of instruments from acoustic and electric guitars, to zithers, effects, and the Quintronics Drum Buddy (go ahead, google it).

The title Coward is an odd one, given the sheer audacity of the sounds contained within and almost overflowing from this bit of plastic. As with Alex’s contribution, their late mother Thelma's penchant for growing orchids is immortalized in the transparently droney album closer, “Cymbidium.” Homage is here in force, one of the disc’s most emotionally charged pieces, “Rod Poole’s Gradual Ascent to Heaven,” paying tribute to the L.A.-based microtonal guitarist who was brutally murdered near his home some two years ago. Nels’ austere and brooding explorations of microtones on “Ascent” is counterbalanced by the whimsical slides, jumps and hiccups that pervade “Thurston County,” dedicated to his friend Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. As Nels has been contemplating a solo overdub project for nearly 25 years, several older compositions, including the dreamy and harmonically complex “Prayer Wheel,” make appearances here.
(Go here for Nels’ extended notes on each of the tracks on Coward.)


Nothing, however, prepares adequately for the stunningly diverse “Onan Suite,” which is, according to Nels, the most self-indulgent thing he’s ever done. Of this six-part sonically diverse epic he will say no more, save raising four possibilities, “Fact, fiction, biography, or autobiography? You be the judge!” He goes all out, incorporating such unique instruments as the Drum Buddy, a hybrid of drum machine and turntable, in the raucous penultimate movement and in “Onan”’s high-powered rumbler opening, “Amniotica.” There, distant voices and snatches of disembodied sound complexes drift by, capturing Nels’ diverse sonic landscapes in wild microcosm.


Just days after we interviewed Mr. Alex, Downbeast had a chance to sit down with Mr. Nels at Mike & Anne’s bistro in Pasadena. Unfortunately, because of his endlessly kinetic schedule, he only had about an hour. (He was due to return to Chicago to continue his lead-guitarist duties for Wilco). As always, the man who refers to himself as "Nervous Nellie" was a blur even when he was sitting down.
(Go here for Nels’ accounts of his upcoming projects with "Uncle Wilco" and others.)

Continue reading "“A COOL HEAD DOES NOT ALWAYS PREVAIL”: The Downbeast Interview with Nels Cline" »

February 15, 2009

The Clines on NPR

For Nels And Alex Cline, An Avant-Jazz Fraternity.


Check out the L.A Weekly's twin reviews of Coward and Continuation here.

April 1, 2010

THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (1 of 4)

Having just celebrated our 10th anniversary here at the Crypto Nerve Center, we have another milestone upon us: The Nels Cline Singers are also reaching their first decade (and four albums’ worth) of delicate lyricism, groove-laden fuzz-funk workouts and face-melting sonic deviance – all without any discernible singing.


Since joining the critically lauded rock group Wilco in 2004, Nels Cline has emerged in recent years as one of the most respected, argued-over and unclassifiable musicians active today – memorably described by Jazz Times as “the world’s most dangerous guitarist” and by bestselling author David Carr (Night of the Gun) as "one of the best in any genre.” Ironically, Cline formed the Singers in 2001 not entirely on his own accord but at the urging of versatile percussionist Scott Amendola, a New Jersey-born Black Sabbath and Ornette Coleman acolyte who had gained prominence in San Francisco's heady, dot com-era music scene of the early 90s though his collaborations with guitarist Charlie Hunter and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief.

Buy will buuuuuy these...

It was Greenlief who introduced Cline to Amendola, who then brought in Colorado native Devin Hoff, a young contrabassist equally at ease with Norwegian Black Metal as he was with improvised skronkitude. What emerged was a impeccably pedigreed and potently eclectic band of three successive generations of vanguard virtuosos whose buzz has only grown with each subsequent release – Instrumentals (2002), The Giant Pin (2004), Draw Breath (2007) and their new world music-influenced double-CD Initiate (2010), which Tim Niland of Music and More recently called “a fascinating and thrilling journey.”


With the release of Initiate on APRIL 13, we at the Beast thought we’d forgo the usual promo interviews (although don’t get us wrong -- we did those, too) and instead pay homage to all the dogged and loyal scribes -- famous, infamous and anonymous – who have provided us with ten years of solid and devoted journalism, opinions, rants, interviews, whining and live reviews on the NCS. Coupled with brand spankin’ new interviews with Nels, Scott and Devin, we have fashioned a musical journey of three accomplished and twisted April fools using the “found voices” of the past decade. Enjoy!

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (1 of 4)" »

April 7, 2010

THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (2 of 4)


NELS CLINE: “I knew I wanted an upright bassist in the new trio.”
(Interview, 3/05/10)

DEVIN HOFF: “I’m an anarchist, so my motto would be: ‘Everything for Everyone.’”
(Interview, 3/11/10)

SCOTT AMENDOLA: “Actually, I knew Devin before I knew Nels.”
(Interview, 3/12/10)

Devin! Hoff! [photo via Downtown Music]

DEVIN: “I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, which was a farm town before it became a college town. It’s smack dab between Boulder and Cheyenne [Wyoming], and kind of culturally reflects that geography: A lotta rednecks and a lotta hippies! So as a kid you kind of grow up in that mix. There’s some urban influence and some rural influence, but it’s not quite either. It’s kind of confusing.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

DEVIN: “My dad [guitarist Bard Hoff] is a musician and my mom’s father was a farmer and a semi-professional country-western musician. My mom is a rocker, so I probably absorbed Led Zeppelin and the Small Faces in utero…so it was almost a no-brainer what I would end up doing for a living: the family business!...My dad knew a lot of musicians from the Denver scene…like Hugh Regan, who’s worked with Roscoe Mitchell, and David Murray. They would come over to my house a couple times a week when I was little…and play Charlie Parker and Anthony Braxton and Albert Ayler. It fucks with your ears at an early age. I grew up hearing that stuff as normal.” (Interview, 3/11/10)

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (2 of 4)" »

April 13, 2010

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… (

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. (

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (3 of 4)" »

April 19, 2010

Initial Initiate Intel In!



"SANDINISTA!": All About Jazz
"YIN AND YANG": Audiophile Audition
"WON'T INDUCE SLEEP": The Daily Athenaeum
"IN TRUE NELS FASHION": Greenleaf Music
"INSISTENT MELODY": L.A. Times Pop & Hiss
"WINGIN' IT": MetalJazz
"INNOVATING": Music and More
"INSPIRING": NPR’s First Listen
"IN ANOTHER UNIVERSE ENTIRELY": Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Check back with us tommorrow, when we'll conclude our 4-part oral history of the Nels Cline Singers -- including informative info on the making of Initiate!

James Brody
Devin Clifford
Keith "Guru" Elam
Charlie Gillett
Franz Kamin
Gene Lees
Malcolm McLaren
Graciela Grillo-Perez
Steve Reid
Alan Rich
Peter Steele
Luigi Waites
William Walker

April 20, 2010

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


February 2007: Nels Cline is voted the #4 “New Guitar God” by Jann Wenner’s struggling indie ‘zine Rolling Stone:


For many rock-guitar fiends, the oldest guitarist on this list is actually the newest. Before joining Wilco in 2004, in time to tour behind A Ghost is Born, Cline -- born in Los Angeles in 1956 -- was a highly regarded figure in jazz and avant-rock circles, a sonically aggressive guitarist who played with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, the art-country band the Geraldine Fibbers and his own searing instrumental groups. Now Cline agitates the bent-pop designs in Wilco's recent music with strafing feedback, zigzagging distortion and, when you least expect it, a striking, scarred romanticism. (David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 2/22/07)

Nels immediately begins concocting self-effacing and embarrassed responses.

“The guitar (god) thing…whatever.”
(Nels, Cincinatti Citybeat, 6/10/09)

[Photo by Beth Herzhaft]

…A guitar “demon” is more like it.
(, 7/16/07)

Continue reading "THE NELS CLINE SINGERS: An Oral History (4 of 4)" »

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