New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill
uitarist Nels Cline has spent much of his nearly 30-year recording career exploring the noisier and less traditional extremes of jazz-rock fusion—and, at this point, is probably best known as a member of Wilco. But, at heart, he remains a jazz musician. And as such, much of his music uses the compositions of others as a departure point for reinterpretation and improvisation. Interstellar Space Revisited, his 1999 take on Coltrane with drummer Greg Bendian, is probably the best known of the interpretive side of Cline's catalog, but only one of the several album-length examinations of another's music, including three volumes of The Music of Eric Von Essen, and his participation as a key player on Carla Bozulich's 2003 remake of Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger.
Jazz pianist Andrew Hill recorded for the prestigious Blue Note label in the mid to late 60s, but in the decades since remained relatively obscure as he pursued academia and free jazz. But since 2000, when his album Dusk was named the best of the year by multiple jazz critics and publications, Hill's profile has been on an upswing, with Blue Note reissuing his 60s albums and releasing this year's Time Lines.
In the liner notes to New Monastery: A View Into The Music Of Andrew Hill, Cline notes that he was unaware of Hill's resurgence when he began work on the project. Instead, as he tells it, the idea came about when clarinetist Ben Goldberg and accordionist Andrea Parker sat in with his usual trio of the past few years, the Nels Cline Singers, which features bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola. Wanting an excuse to bring all those players together on one project, he brainstormed for a composer to focus on, and quickly decided on Hill, adding cornetist Bobby Bradford to round the group out to a sextet.
Cline also stresses in the liner notes the importance of the subtitle, A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill, as he makes no attempt at a traditional tribute album or comprehensive selection of Hill's catalog. The album is merely one ensemble's take on Hill's complex, idiosyncratic compositions. One of the most significant ways in which Cline deconstructs and takes liberties with Hill's songs is by arranging several tracks as multi-song suites; New Monastery fits 12 Hill compositions into seven tracks in little over an hour.
Cline is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive and individual guitarists working today, and most of the records which bear his name are the work of Cline as an auteur, whether or not he's the composer. New Monastery, however, is not just about someone else's compositions, but about the interaction between the ensemble he's assembled. Although there are unmistakable Cline effects pedal fits during "Dance With Death" and "Yokada Yokada," the sound of the album is largely dictated by the unique array of instruments. The presence of accordion and clarinet even give some of the jauntier tunes something of a klezmer feel, particularly during "The Rumproller."
Despite Cline's reputation for rebellious noise, he does an admirable job of letting Hill's melodies breathe, fussing more with instrumentation and structure than the meat of the compositions. For every intentionally discordant or shambolic section in a song like "Not Sa No Sa," there's something as smolderingly restrained and lovely as "Dedication," one of two tracks that features Cline's twin brother Alex on percussion. Nels Cline will probably never cross over into acceptance by the jazz establishment, or make a record that fully reins in his love for noise and skronk, but New Monastery may be the closest he comes to accomplishing either.
Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-10-16