Nels Cline + Julian Lage – Room (2014)

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What began as an article for JazzTimes penned by Nels Cline about his favorite Jim Hall songs has culminated into this: an encounter of two highly regarded and open-minded guitarists from two generations that followed the one from the iconic guitarist who, in a roundabout way, put them in the same room.

Yes, it’s a long story, and Cline explains it all here, but these paragraphs are devoted to the end product, Room, a document of the unexpected alchemy between Cline and his younger partner in this collaboration, Julian Lage.

Room — set for release November 25, 2014 via Mack Avenue Records — puts these two guitar greats in the purest possible setting: just the two of them, using a total of two guitars a piece, with no effects and recorded ‘live.’ Moreover, all of the material was brought in by each of these participants.

You don’t have to be a guitar freak to appreciate chiming sonorities of an unadorned guitar, and how in the right hands they can create music of mystery, drama and genuine feeling. They get their rich tone not from pedal or studio wizardry but straight from exquisite archtop guitars (Cline’s is a ’65 Gibson Barney Kessel while Lage plays a custom Linda Manzer) or acoustic ones (Cline chooses a ’62 Gibson J-200 and Lage favors his ’39 Martin 000-18). Lage is placed in the left channel and Cline on the right.

Put on your headphones for Room; this way you can hear on “Abstract 12” how the music emanating from each channel is an independent entity onto itself but the two sides fit together perfectly. The highly synchronous “Racy” soon gets its groove on, with the thematic lines done in unison while Cline and Lage switch off comping and lead roles.

Cline and Lage liberally cross the lines separating jazz, folk, and chamber music, but the advanced bop tunes usually prove to be the most harmonically demanding ones, the ones that reveal how adept these guys are in handling the complexities of the material and still maintain their musical bond. Cline’s “Blues, Too” that originally appeared The Nels Cline Singer’s The Giant Pin and again in front of an audience for Initiate is perfect for this setting, a song motivated by Hall but imbued with Cline’s adventurous spirit. The two use Cline’s inverted blues merely as a jumping off point, traversing over Americana terrain, engaging in freestyle tête-à-tête and returning to the theme just in time to bring the adventure to a close. Cline titled “Amenette” as an amalgamation of the names of his drummer Scott Amendola and free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, and this feisty song stretches bop out to its outer limits like “Blues, Too,” but grounded with short, well-placed harmolodic figures played together.

The four acoustic numbers introduces new timbres but the same chemistry. “Whispers From Eve,” dedicated to the late bassist Eric Von Essen, has a folksy gentleness that’s contemplative and impressionistic, and breezily comes upon a gorgeous melody somewhere in the middle; they move on but stray only within a short distance from it. “Odd/End” sure enough has an odd 7/8 meter but that’s hardly what makes it click; it’s about the flow, which oscillates between moments of tension and release, keeping the flamenco-tinged energy level constant.

Nominally, Room is ‘jazz,’ but in reality, it’s just ‘music,’ the kind of music that can only be carried out by a guitar or two. Julian Lage and Nels Cline have long had it within themselves to bring out the full range of affection that’s possible from just six strings and frets and little else. The special thing about this rendezvous is how fully they brought out these aspects from each other. They’re having fun with their immense talents, and it’s hard not to share in that fun as listeners.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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