Nels Cline is a New York-based guitar player and composer perhaps best known as the lead guitarist in the band Wilco. Wilco, however, is just one of his projects. Cline’s recording and performing career spans jazz, rock, punk and experimental and is into its fourth decade. He has been part of over 200 recordings and 30 of which he has been the leader. Nels joined Wilco in 2004 and had been the lead guitarist ever since. He has contributed work to albums including Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (The Album), The Whole Love, and Star Wars. Cline’s playing has earned him several accolades over the years, including Rolling Stone’s “New Guitar Gods”.
Cline is known for his improvisational playing and for the diversity of his musical projects, as well as his use of effects pedals and looping devices which give his music a distinct sound. He has played with jazz musicians Charlie Haden, Gregg Bendian, Wadada Leo Smith, and the late bassist Eric Von Essen. And his duo and quartet, The Nels Cline 4 is very jazz forward.
The Early Days
Born in Los Angeles CA in 1956, he grew up as a rock ‘n roll obsessive before becoming immersed in the world of jazz and improvised music after hearing the music of John Coltrane. Cline began to play guitar at age 12 when his twin brother, Alex Cline took up the drums. The pair developed their playing together, in a youth rock band. This seems to be a trend among many great artists, having a sibling play, then playing with them. He recalls that hearing a recording of Jimi Hendrix performing “Manic Depression” was one of the pivotal points in his decision to play guitar.
Outside of Wilco
Beyond Wilco, Cline performs in many other projects. He is in a duo with guitarist Julian Lage in addition to a quartet, The Nels Cline 4. The Nels Cline 4 features Lage plus bassist Scott Colley and drummer Tom Rainey. This is basically a bigger more beefed up version of the duo, featuring a rhythm section. Additionally, he collaborates with his partner Yuka Honda as the Duo Cup. He performs as Stretch Woven with percussionist Scott Amendola. He leads The Nels Cline Singers, an American free jazz trio featuring Amendola plus bassist Trevor Dunn and percussionist Cyro Baptista. Lastly, Nels plays with Stained Radiance, an improvisational live project with performance painter Norton Wisdom.
Cline also periodically presents concerts of his concept album Lovers, which involves a 17-person ensemble and collaborates dozens of composers/improvisers. Will Hermes, of Rolling Stone Magazine, wrote “An update of the Fifties “mood music”. Lovers is a chilled-out instrumental soundtrack for breakfast in bed with mai-tais and late-night booty calls. Lovers is a departure from Wilco for Nels Cline, whose side projects generally involve free-jazz freakouts. This is something unique and original. If you are not familiar with Nels’ work with Wilco, or any of his solo projects I highly suggest you give a listen.
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