Despite the name, The Nels Cline Singers do not have a vocalist. Led by Nels Cline (probably most widely known as Wilco's guitarist extraordinaire), they are a power trio, though not exactly in the classic sense of the term -- a band like Cream, for example. The band fuses elements of rock, funk, jazz and experimental, though they are not creating "fusion" exactly. It's concretely contemporary.
For their fourth album, Initiate, Cline uses his trio, composed of drummer/percussionist Scott Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff, to blow musical boundaries and definitions wide open. Cline, Amendola and Hoff have been performing and creating music together for years, far under the mainstream radar, making use of their full musical palettes to illuminate Cline's vision and direction. Initiate is a two-disc opus, consisting of one studio disc and one live performance (recorded at San Francisco's Cafe du Nord in September 2009). Cline draws on influences as vast as Sonic Youth, Jim Hall, Pete Cosey (who played on Miles Davis' mid-1970s "fusion" records), as well as ’70s Nigerian funk rock and various forms of contemporary experimental. The result is a densely sonic offering, often challenging, and consistently exhilarating.
From the funk rocker "Floored" to the deceptively breezy "Divining," the songs take numerous twists and turns, often leading to unexpected and dynamic conclusions. Cline and Amendola's use and command of various electronic devices not only adds to the texture of the pieces, but, at times, dictates the atmosphere. The Singers' employment of free and improvisational jazz, while inserting "non-jazz" influences, pushes forth towards relatively unexplored territories. "Red Line to Greenland" best represents how the trio integrates and synthesizes these musical forms, while swerving into different moods, with an air of great confidence. Cline also uses the polyrhythmic psychedelia of ’70s Nigerian rock as the foundation for the deep groove of "King Queen," with pianist David Witham contributing electric piano.
The live disc illustrates, with pristine clarity, the raw power, stellar musicianship and instinctive chemistry that The Singers produce when performing on stage. It features songs culled from The Singers' 2004 release, Giant Pin, from Cline's "solo" works, 2000's The Inkling and 2009's Coward, two cover songs, including a devastating, Hendrix-induced version of Weather Report's "Boogie Woogie Waltz" (with the core members of Deerhoof adding percussion), as well as two additional new songs, the metallic dirge "Forge" and "Raze."
Initiate leaves little doubt what The Nels Cline Singers are capable of, delivering a true tour de force. As for the inventive guitarist and composer Nels Cline, whose projects are numerous and diverse, we may be witnessing a blossoming, and an ever-changing progression, of one of the great musical artists of our time. Initiate serves as a significant milestone for music of this new century.