The Nels Cline Singers Take a Dense, Dark Trip on Initiate

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The Nels Cline Singers

Initiate (Cryptogramophone)

After last year’s solo guitar workout Coward, the wide-ranging Nels Cline is back with his most regular band, the Singers—bassist Devon Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola, with keyboards from David Witham and Yuka Honda—for this double album. The first disc, recorded in a single three-day session, is an unrestrained showcase of all the sides of Cline’s playing (he’s collaborated with Charlie Haden, Mike Watt, Sonic Youth, and Willie Nelson, and has been a member of Wilco since 2004), from gentle Pat Metheny-style lyricism and sort-of traditional balladry (“You Noticed” and “Mercy [Supplication]”) to a harder-edged post-fusion mashup of jazz and rock (“Red Line to Greenland”) and dramatic, martial-paced post-rock crescendoes. In between are electronic embellishments, tiny, abstract exercises, and passages of freewheeling funk (“King Queen”). There’s no linear sense here, the way that Coward was built around a suite of lone compositions; Initiate sounds very much like three close, intuitive players banging out a set over a weekend.

The second disc is live, recorded at San Francisco’s Cafe du Nord. It’s even more immediate than the studio recordings; Cline’s tone is dark and raw, and he leads the rest of the band into weird territory, like the barbed, cutting climax of “Forge” or the noisy black hole at the center of “Raze.” A long, ebullient version of Weather Report’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz” at the end pulls the set out of the murk, but the live disc remains a dense, dark trip.

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