White Out with Nels Cline – Accidental Sky (2015)

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The completely uncategorizable duo White Out (Lin Culbertson (keys, electronics), Ton Surgal (drums)) has thrived in the experimental/free realm for a number of years and their reputation among musical outliers is well known. That’s led to collaborations with the likes of Jim O’Rourke, Thurston Moore and Carlos Giffoni. Earlier this month, they issued a new set of recordings on the Northern Spy label with one of the most prominent free-thinking guitarists out there today in Nels Cline. Accidental Sky was recorded ‘live’ in Culbertson and Surgal’s apartment with no forethought — making music without a net — but that’s hardly an insurmountable challenge for these sonic trapeze artists.

Cline, long attracted to incorporating circuited dissonant noises into free jazz settings, first jammed with White During his LA days in the early 2000s, so when the two parties decided to finally document their on-the-fly collaborations on a White Out album, there was no prep work needed for this meeting of kindred souls. They all share a fondness for the unpredictable and being driven by instinct, but just as importantly, creating a group complexion and not an unconnected group of individuals ones.

Which points to perhaps Cline’s most unheralded strength: his comfort within ensemble play that’s so uncharacteristic of guitarists known for outsized individual technique and possessing such a unique voice on the instrument. Cline does not dominate these sessions; he finds his space and fills it out masterfully.

Cline’s east Indian moans blends right in with Culbertson’s swirls “Imperative” and after a while when the spacious, desert textures eventually surrender to the harsher noises, it’s sometimes difficult to pull them apart. They integrate even tighter on the brusque “Ragged Mist of Stalled Horizon” but Surgal’s toms rumbling underneath effectively pushes against the drone of the other two. Alien flute lines and spooky vocal howls create the barren terrain on “Under A Void Moon” that allow Cline and Surgal to run through uninhibited.

White Out moves between melodicism and dissonance like as if no such boundary exists. That’s why such a brutally craggy number such as “Sirius Is Missing” can co-exist alongside the tender, tuneful “Soft Nameless Absolute,” where Culbertson’s synth gurgles provide the right atmospherics to keep the song engaging.

Starting with an empty slate, White Out with Nels Cline paint on a sonic canvas in a way they makes them seem as surprised as to what happens next in a performance as the listener. The overriding surprise, however, is that is manages to come together so naturally well. Accidental Sky was intentionally created accidentally (if that makes any sense) to capture moments impossible to contemplate.

Cline, by the way, will soon be touring on the West Coast with the Scott Amendola Band, an all-star lineup that also features Jeff Parker (guitar), Jenny Scheinman (violin) and John Shifflett (bass). Catch them at one of these venues soon:

November 10, 2015: Yoshi’s, Oakland, CA
November 11, 2015: Arcata Playhouse, Arcata, CA
November 12, 2015: Arcata Playhouse, Arcata, CA
November 13, 2015: Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR
November 14, 2015: Earshot Music Festival Triple Door, Seattle, WA
November 15, 2015: Studio Records, Vancouver, Canada

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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