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Electric Jazz

The Nels Cline Singers

Macrocope

[Mack Avenue]

ΩΩΩ½

No, they’re not really singers. You’ll definitely hear a voice, very much in passing, doing a sub-Pat Metheny wordless vocalise but otherwise, Wilco’s guitarist Nels Cline was playing games while giving this name to his sensational new electric jazz trio with bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Scott Amendola.

All the past drek that has gone by the name jazz rock fusion makes it impossible to throw this terrific new disc into that category. It’s electric jazz in the experimental Miles Davis tradition in which Cline is having phantom dialogues with some great guitar forebears. Imagine one of them as John McLaughlin between his straight-ahead youth playing jazz on “Extrapoloation” and his performance of “Dance of Maya” on The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s ground-breaking “Inner Mounting Flame. Imagine another Cline is in dialogue with as Metheny in full adventuring mode; and a couple of others as John Scofield and Marc Ribot.

“I’m not in any one genre and never have been,” says Cline, who proves the point brilliantly on this disc. “I was a rock and roll kid but after hearing Coltrane and Miles and Weather Report, then Indian music and Nigerian pop and that sort of thing, there was no turning back. From that point on, the idea of purism just was not possible.”

It’s no accident that electric guitarists seem to be the most polymorphic musicians in vernacular music. Ever since Les Paul’s – and certainly McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix – exploration of sound and doing a little bit of everything at once seems to be the birthright of so many of them.

It’s only the final cut, “Sascha’s Book of Frogs” where Cline and his musicians seem to be wandering aimlessly through a sonic laboratory where they failing to feel at home. Everything else is brilliant rock-influenced electric jazz that Cline intended to go beyond being polymorphous. What he wanted, he says, is “to arrive at a point that has no boundaries, that’s totally amorphous. It’s like sunshine or mist, it’s everywhere and nowhere.”

This is a brilliant disc. I’d say he’s there.

– Jeff Simon