By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Debra DiPaolo|
"When you tap a big gong and stand right in front of it," says Cline, "the sound is overwhelming. For a moment it's like you physically vanish. I think that would be therapeutic for a lot of people who hate their life, and everything is twisted into a knot inside them. You play the thing, and the triviality of it all is revealed."
|Listen to Alex Cline:
"It's an infinite world," he says. "When you start developing a relationship with these instruments, they show you how they want to be played. You have to play with the degree of sensitivity and respect that's being demanded. It becomes addictive."
As addictions go, improvisational percussion carries scant negative impact, except for the audience limitations that bang-a-lot types tend to experience. Not that Cline meant to join an exclusive club. In the early '70s, when Alex and his twin brother, multipurpose guitar extrapolator Nels, were coming of age, there was a sense that this open-ended music might be sort of . . . popular. Genre inventions such as the initial waxings of Weather Report, the Headhunters and Oregon were selling. The brothers noticed that even borderline rock groups were in on the action: King Crimson, for instance, was dedicating a third of its set to free jamming.
"The '70s are frequently reviled," says Cline, "but people maybe now are starting to realize that there was a lot of amazing music. Ideas of composition and improvisation were being completely reinvented and recombined. Then you had the Mahavishnu Orchestra taking things to a new level, showing that really almost anything was possible -- it just didn't even seem human. My brother and I labored under the illusion that this was a viable concept, ignorant of the fact that it was the formula for total doom."
That's mostly a joke, of course, since the only doom Cline has suffered is the curse of discommodification. Few musicians would scoff at the places his obsession has landed him: on the bandstand, in the studio, and all over North America and Europe with the elite of jazz and experimental artists (Julius Hemphill, Charlie Haden, John Carter, Vinny Golia, Horace Tapscott, Tim Berne, Bobby Bradford and dozens more), usually playing exactly what he wants. Cline is a primary color on L.A.'s thriving new-music canvas, participating in everybody's ensembles and curating a mind-altering series of concerts at the Pasadena Shakespeare Company Theater. He's also recorded as a leader or co-leader on deep-perspective albums such as The Lamp and the Star (ECM), Montsalvat (Nine Winds), Right of Violet (with Jeff Gauthier and G.E. Stinson, Nine Winds) and Summer Night (with Quartet Music, Delos).
Atop these, you can pile a new pair of Cline releases. On the one hand, they exemplify a couple of his stylistic extremes (he has lots). On the other, they demonstrate his consistency, because all this diverse music glows with his own dual lights: calm and aspiration.
THE ALEX CLINE ENSEMBLE'S SPARKS FLY UPWARD HELPS launch Cryptogramophone (www.cryptogramophone.com), a new label birthed by regular Cline collaborator Jeff Gauthier. Produced by Peter Erskine, the CD melds Gauthier's sweet violin with Aina Kemanis' ethereal soprano voice, Wayne Peet's airy keyboards, G.E. Stinson's furry guitar effects, Michael Elizondo's plucky bass and the inimitable Cline wash to refute the lie that meditation must be ascetic -- Sparks supplies enough gloss and tactile variety for a dedicated sensualist.
It's all for the love of love; this is the first of two Crypto- gramophone projects in tribute to Cline's friends and influences. Most explosive is "Audacity," which gives everybody a chance to jam and burn; it's for Tony Williams, the drummer who fatefully commanded Cline's ears nearly three decades ago: "I hadn't the faintest clue how he was doing what he was doing. I just knew I had to go that direction, and I never looked back."
"Pieces of a Mirror" represents a more personal link: with the late pianist Richard Grossman, who helped Cline discover how to augment traditions of swing and melody with a personalized focus on timbre and time suspension. "Richard brought everyone into his musical presence with his first sound. I suppose Miles was that way." The spherical smoothness of "Mirror," shaped from the ghostly images that arise from rubbed cymbals, is shattered by dramatic kicks at a big bass drum, then reassembled in Kemanis' recitation of a moving poem by Grossman's wife, Dorothea. The track's methodology is Cageian: "I instructed everyone not to interact with me at all. I asked Wayne to play the piano in 'a somewhat absent-minded, dreamlike way.'" It works.