Nels Cline & Devin Sarno
Buried On Bunker Hill
t’s so smooth. So crystalline and reflective. Staring into its glistening, mirror surface, it’s easy to get lost. Time loses meaning. The drone. Endless. Timeless. Seconds stretching out into long endlessly pretty vistas of liquid, tension-free syrup, an occasional guitar note ringing out solitary and evocative in the dim grey fog, a beacon, a brief pinprick of light calling you out further and further, never coming any closer, always its siren call heard from a distance within the calming womb-like surrounding pall of the drone. It’s warm and deep, steady, reassuring, and that meandering guitar weaves a path through the dense waters like a boat on a still lake; each note’s rippling wake is glimpsed for only a second before the surface smoothes over again.
Indeed, the pairing of improv powerhouse guitarist Nels Cline with bassist Devin Sarno is unexpectedly lush, melodic, and tranquil for much of its length, even though that tranquility often has a darker element. And even though the album opens with the 18-minute “Swinging London,” which quickly becomes anything but tranquil. The track builds a meaty drone filled with rumbling feedback and soloing from Cline’s guitar. Cline veers a bit towards pointless wankery at first, but as he slathers distortion onto his notes and approaches the lower register of his collaborator, his contributions begin to make more sense within the piece. At close to the ten-minute mark, Cline engages in an extended session of feedback-drenched soloing, his guitar adding energy and volume to the gritty rolling waves of the electronics (both men are responsible for effects, so other than Cline’s guitar, not much is recognizable here).
The much briefer “Hydrofoil” is more subdued, with squirts of processed guitar and bass reverberating back and forth in a spacious atmosphere that’s quickly filled with the after-echoes of the sounds. “A Knot in the Wrist” returns to the darker, feedback-pocked lake of the opening track, with just as compelling results. Cline’s ragged soloing again becomes the dominant feature after a near-ambient introduction, his cascading licks taking on a sense of inevitability as the track steamrolls into a stormy sea only to once more calm itself towards the end, with traces of melody and ambience once again drifting beneath the feedback stormclouds left hovering in the air by Cline.
It’s only on the last track, appropriately dubbed “Only Peace,” that the duo simply allows their quieter tendencies to take hold for the full ten minutes. Cline’s plaintive guitar murmurs gently over a subdued wash of electronics and gently lapping bass drones; each note has the deliberation and lonely quality of an Ennio Morricone score. It’s a beautiful, transcendent track, the best on the disc, and as good as the rest of this music is, one can’t help but wish that the rest of the album had the same simplicity and emotional depth as this one ten-minute piece does. Where the rest of the album impresses with walloping waves of feedback and dexterity on the strings -- all enjoyable and exciting and with plenty to like -- this track is stripped down and full of genuine feeling, which is why it lasts far longer after every other memory from this record has faded back into the fog from which it first emerged.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2004-03-11