Nels Cline


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Clarinetist/saxophonist Dexter Payne has an interesting take on Whitney Balliett's term "the sound of surprise," which is how the well-known critic describes jazz. Payne has stated that with the more accessible forms of jazz -- which could be anything from Dixieland to bossa nova -- listeners are given a mixture of surprise and familiarity, whereas free jazz is "total surprise." And total surprise, Payne asserts, is something that only a small group of listeners are able to comprehend and get into. Some people have described free jazz as the punk rock of jazz, but in a post-Nirvana, post-Nevermind world, punk is downright mainstream -- and free jazz has remained very underground. Nonetheless, free jazz's true believers carry on fearlessly, which is a good thing because for those who do comprehend an album like Immolation/Immersion, the rewards are certainly there. Although not groundbreaking by mid-2000s standards, this 2005 date is an enjoyable demonstration of what electric guitarist Nels Cline, alto saxman Wally Shoup, and drummer Chris Corsano have to offer in a free jazz environment. Some avant-garde jazz favors an inside/outside approach, but this trio is outside all the way -- and the outside serves Cline, Shoup, and Corsano well whether they're getting into dense, chaotic atonality or going for something that is reflective and spacy in an AACM-ish way. Even at its most chaotic, Immolation/Immersion isn't as extreme as the blistering work of Charles Gayle or post-1965 John Coltrane; nonetheless, this is very abstract, cerebral, uncompromising music that must be accepted on its own radical terms. Immolation/Immersion won't go down in history as a disc that points avant-garde jazz in any new directions, but it's a worthwhile effort that free jazz diehards should be aware of.

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