Newport Jazz Fest Countdown: Nels Cline

A few years ago I asked Nels Cline about any dream projects he’d like to see reach fruition, and he brought up a “mood music record” except that the romance “would be more dark and twisted – but not in a negative way. The songs would be reinvestigated, but also honored. Songs like “Touching’ by Annette Peacock and ‘I Have Dreamed’ from The King and I and ‘Snare, Girl’ by Sonic Youth. Something like those Jackie Gleason 100 Strings albums – not as lame as that, but you should be able to put it on in your bachelor pad.” Voila! Lovers (Blue Note) drops next week and it’s almost exactly as the guitarist’s original vision sketched out. Eerie, lyrical, poignant, lush, plaintive – the romantic music that Cline’s large ensemble (arranged and conducted by Michael Leonhart) essays are all about a blend of daring and charm that sustains itself through 18 tracks. It’s dagger through the heart cover imagery speaks perfectly to the nourish vibe it occasionally conjures as well. Cline is an omni-improviser; between his history with fractious jazz and his inventive work with Wilco, he always reminding us just how wide his scope truly is. Lovers breaks new ground, the most overtly pretty record he’s ever made. The red-blooded clarity of David Breskin’s production adds the warmth, and pieces like Jimmy Giuffre’s “Cry, Want” and Ambitious Lovers’ “It Only Has To Happen Once,” as well as originals such as “The Bed We Made,” shimmer right before you. The ensemble teems with some of New York’s smartest jazz players, and their Sunday morning preview is going to be an event.

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