Nels Cline, who plays guitar with Wilco, has his own, facetiously named instrumental trio, the Nels Cline Singers. The now-purring, now-slashing group is joined on this tour by Cline's wife, multi-instrumentalist Yuka Honda, a founding member of Cibo Matto. Their performance is part of Seattle's Is That Jazz? Festival.
Staying in motels and cruising down the West Coast in a van packed with gear isn’t everyone’s idea of an ideal honeymoon, but any chance to make music together is a special occasion for Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Yuka Honda, best known as a founding member of Cibo Matto.
After marrying in Japan last November, they hunkered down in upstate New York to record their duo project, “Fig,” an album slated for release on Sean Lennon’s label, Chimera Music. (Honda played with Lennon in Cibo Matto.) Now Honda’s on the road with the Nels Cline Singers, performing as a special guest with the guitarist’s volatile instrumental trio featuring bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Scott Amendola.
“We’re trying to do as much as possible because then we get to be together,” says Cline from Chicago, while taking a break from working on a new Wilco album. “She’s playing maybe half the sets, because not all material lends itself to a keyboardist. She doesn’t think of herself as an improviser, but her sensibility fits in really well.”
The Singers perform Saturday at the Chapel Performance Space as part of the Is That Jazz? Festival’s closing concert (the electroacoustic improv trio Triptet opens the show). In many ways Cline embodies the festival’s mission to investigate the uncharted regions where jazz bleeds into other styles and traditions.
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Decades before Wilco came calling, the Los Angeles-raised Cline was a revered figure on the Southern California scene as he giddily zigzagged across stylistic frontiers.
An incisive, but also lyrical improviser who’s collaborated with jazz searchers such as Charlie Haden, Vinny Golia and Wadada Leo Smith, Cline is also in his element shredding with bassist Mike Watt (of Minutemen and Firehose fame), or rocking out with former Jane’s Addiction drummer Steve Perkins in Banyan.
Not that he’s a macho guitarslinger. Cline has found equal fulfillment working as an accompanist with singer/songwriters such Noe Venable, Rickie Lee Jones and Carla Bozulich in the Geraldine Fibbers and her masterly alt-country re-imagining of Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger.”
With its expansive soundscapes, the Singers serves as an ideal vehicle for Cline. A study in contrasts, the music waxes and wanes from electronic purrs and pulses to slashing feedback-driven upheavals.
The group’s latest project, recorded during precious Wilco downtime, is the two-disc album “Initiate” (Cryptogramophone), which is aptly adorned with gorgeous abstract photos of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator.
“I’m just lucky I get to do my own stuff,” Cline says. “People who work with Wilco, they ask to help with my projects, and they want me to bring that back to the band. It’s bizarre, a little bit like living a teenage fantasy.”
Andrew Gilbert: firstname.lastname@example.org