Guitarist Nels Cline is one of those artists who seem to love everything about the world and all the music in it. When asking him about his inspirations, his bandmates or recordings, one had better be very specific, because the man gets around, and has been doing so for decades. On a given night, Cline could be playing with Americana stars Wilco, or on tour with Mike Watt, or in a punk band or a jazz ensemble; hell, it wouldn't be a surprise to hear he does birthday parties.
In recent years, Cline's profile has been on the rise due a series of stunning releases, notably Lovers (2016) and Currents/Constellations (2018) on venerable jazz imprint Blue Note.
This week, Cline comes to town in the heavy company of saxophonist Larry Ochs and drummer Gerald Cleaver for a night of mindbending improvisation on the heels of their latest work, What Is To Be Done, released this year on Clean Feed Records. The nameless trio bring the noise, and then some, with enough combined experience to fill a lifetime. Ochs is one of the founding members of free jazz legends Rova Saxophone Quartet. Cleaver has lent his percussion acumen to jazz heroes like Jeremy Pelt, Miroslav Vitous and Roscoe Mitchell. Cline's résumé is more like a compact history of underground music, with experiences ranging from Sonic Youth to William Parker, down through Wilco and the Geraldine Fibbers. Collectively the trio can take performance, and their audience, to the outer limits of musical experience with focused energy and dazzling ferocity. Don't fear the skronk, though – they let beauty shine through too.
Cline, ever the affable and polished spokesperson, took the time to talk to Orlando Weekly about the group's upcoming performance on Thursday.
What Is To Be Done is a real departure from your previous work. This album verges on the cinematic and it's occasionally menacing in tone. It's been years since you put this kind of free improvising on wax.
It's an improvising trio and we'll be stepping into some potentially hazardous sonic realms. It's certainly a case of what happens when we play together. Larry, with Rova, and Gerald and I, with whoever we play with, add the colors to what the music calls for. In live settings, in performance, this is par for the course. We're doing this kind of music all the time. I do have some recordings slated for release that are pretty rockin' and similar in tone to what we're doing here.
It's interesting that you're coming here for the first time and playing in a free jazz outfit, whereas many of the artists you've collaborated with have been treading the boards here for awhile. What took you so long?
Well, this gig initiated a mini-tour throughout the South – Gainesville, Georgia and Alabama. I've played in town before with Wilco, and Mike Watt back in the '90s. Larry's played with a lot of the people that the Civic Minded 5 [the show's organizers] have worked with, so in a way it's been predestined and I'm happy to be playing there.
Sonically, what are we going hear?
It will be completely different. We don't have a single riff that we played on the record or before. We aren't like, "Hey, that was a good area, let's do that again." We don't do that, we just play. I'm sure it'll be pretty burning because, you know ... we're energetic gentleman. It'll raise dust.
If anything I think you've come up with a great band moniker, the Energetic Gentlemen.
We've been pondering what to call ourselves, but nothing has stuck.