Nels Cline

Dirty Baby

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It is easy to see why guitarist Nels Cline calls DIRTY BABY the most challenging work of his career. Called upon by producer and poet David Breskin to compose separate works to accompany two collections of Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha's "censor strip" images from the '80s and '90s, he responded with relish--33 are from the Silhouette series and 33 from the Cityscapes paintings. All 66 are included in a handsome, double-disc package containing three booklets, one of which contains a detailed liner essay by Cline regarding his approach, preparation, and aesthetic. Also available is a large format, exhibition catalog-style hardcover book that contains the music and two more discs of Breskin's spoken word poetry (called "Ghazals") with bigger representations of the images from publisher DelMonico Books·Prestel. Working with two very different yet related series of paintings presented Cline new considerations a as composer and as an accompanist. He worked with larger ensembles in each case. "Side A" composed for Silhouettes contains the six-part title suite. It begins quietly, slowly, deliberately; suggestive more than assertive. Players include Bill Barrett's harmonica, Jon Brion's repetitive synth patterns, and Cline's and Jeremy Drake's acoustic guitars, supported by bassist Devon Hoff and minimal percussion by Scott Amendola and Danny Frankel. They really take shape on "Part II," as electric guitars and a drum kit come to the fore, playing and economically soloing on gorgeous yet simple chord patterns. "Parts III" and "IV" are their mirror images: spooky works that are elliptical with large spaces, moody colors and textures. By "V," the band is vamping Miles Davis-style on a funk riff with Hoff's electric bass leading the charge. For ten of "Part VI"'s twelve minutes, free-form guitar skronk, synth whiteout, and an undermixed rhythm section, smatter and smear the soundscape before Drake's banjo assembles a mutant back porch melody to close. "Side B," contains 33 short tracks -- all but one are under four minutes -- individually titled for the Cityscape images. (The titles are fantastic, seemingly comic and noirish; but only the latter is true: Cline poignantly recontextualized them in lieu of the Iraq war(s): "Agree to Our Terms or Prepare Yourself for a Blast Furnace," "You Talk You Get Killed," etc. ). Cline employs a larger band that relies as much on winds, reeds, and strings as much as it does guitars, percussion, and effects; Alex Cline plays drums and Brad Dutz vibes, xylophone, and more. These pieces are more fragmented, angular, and aggressive, yet mixed warmly; they're approachable contrasted with Ruscha's prohibitively code-like images. Cline explains that: "These works do not, as in the case of his most famous pieces, have words floating graphically on the picture plane, but rather censor strips which Ruscha himself calls 'dumb blocks,' which stand in for or 'cover over' (conceptually) the words of each picture's title." The erasures imply forced silences. Cline's pieces simultaneously underscore and shatter these silences. The dynamics wider, colors brighter, and textures more layered than on "Side A." The palette is more complex and labyrinthine because of their brevity. Jazz, rock, modern composition, structured improvisation, and restraint play an enormous role, but are anchored solidly by Cline's boundlessly adventurous guitar work. DIRTY BABY is a singular accomplishment, presented in a fashion that demands more of the listener's attention but buy pays off handsomely. It adds immeasurably to the depth of Cline's contributions as a musican -- and offers another way of seeing and hearing this body of Ruscha's work.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 4:10
2 3:37
3 7:12
4 3:31
5 10:52
6 12:38

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 1:41 SpotifyAmazon
2 1:30 SpotifyAmazon
3 1:15 SpotifyAmazon
4 1:15 SpotifyAmazon
5 1:52 SpotifyAmazon
6 1:20 SpotifyAmazon
7 0:58 SpotifyAmazon
8 3:14 SpotifyAmazon
9 1:22 SpotifyAmazon
10 0:42 SpotifyAmazon
11 1:24 SpotifyAmazon
12 3:33 SpotifyAmazon
13 1:27 SpotifyAmazon
14 2:19 SpotifyAmazon
15 0:49 SpotifyAmazon
16 2:05 SpotifyAmazon
17 1:18 SpotifyAmazon
18 1:01 SpotifyAmazon
19 2:39 SpotifyAmazon
20 2:04 SpotifyAmazon
21 1:26 SpotifyAmazon
22 2:32 SpotifyAmazon
23 0:55 SpotifyAmazon
24 1:20 SpotifyAmazon
25 0:41 SpotifyAmazon
26 0:46 SpotifyAmazon
27 1:20 SpotifyAmazon
28 0:33 SpotifyAmazon
29 0:53 SpotifyAmazon
30 2:01 SpotifyAmazon
31 1:00 SpotifyAmazon
32 2:26 SpotifyAmazon
33 1:34 SpotifyAmazon
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