The Story Behind Nels Cline's "Lovers"
April 5, 2017
By Rusty Aceves
April 9 brings only the third performance of music from guitarist Nels Cline’s new Blue Note album Lovers, a large-scale project that represents a landmark in his spectacular career and a masterpiece in his discography. His SFJAZZ appearance features an all-star orchestra including guitarist Julian Lage, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, and more. Here’s a deeper look at Lovers:
“I have been dreaming about, planning, and re-working my rather obsessive idea of this record for well over twenty-five years, and it was always going to be called Lovers. It is meant to be as personal in its sound and in its song selection as it is universal in its endeavor to assay or map the parameters of “mood” as it once pertained, and currently pertains, to the peculiar and powerful connection between sound/song and intimacy/romance. In this, I hope Lovers offers something of an update of the “mood music” idea and ideal, while celebrating and challenging our iconic notion of romance.” — Nels Cline
A visionary guitarist and member of Wilco, Cline has brilliantly balanced his career as a major pop music figure and a boundary-breaking exploratory musician. With a background encompassing experimental rock with iconoclasts Mike Watt and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore as well as the fringes of jazz and improvised music with Julius Hemphill and Wadada Leo Smith, Cline was dubbed “the Avant Romantic” by Rolling Stone, who placed him among their 2007 "Top 20 New Guitar Gods" and 2011 list of "Greatest Guitarists of All Time." In addition to his innumerable collaborations, including an audacious 1999 revisiting of John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space with drummer Gregg Bendian, Cline leads a number of stimulating ensembles including the Nels Cline Singers, featuring bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola.
During this lifetime of recording and performing, Cline fostered the germ of an idea for what would become his most his most expansive and personal project.
“I first thought of it in the ‘80s,” Cline says. “I would sit on airplanes and make lists of songs, add things and cross things out and make arrows. I always wanted the record to be a somewhat dark and disturbing ‘mood music’ record. My idea was that it would reflect some less-traveled aspects of the idea of romance, love, and sex. It’s gotten a little more upbeat and more varied over time. It has a lot more light in it—as does my life, I suppose, at this point.”
Arranged by trumpeter and composer Michael Leonhart, the 18-track double album takes inspiration from the “mood music” albums of the 1950s as well as the lush arrangements of Gil Evans, and personal guitar heroes Jim Hall and Gabor Szabo, with Cline’s exploratory spirit at its heart. Material ranges from arrangements of tracks by Sonic Youth and New York downtown icon Arto Lindsay to the timeless work of Henry Mancini and Rodgers and Hammerstein in addition to Cline's own compostions.
Bringing Lovers to life on the Miner stage will be a 17-piece ensemble made up of many of the artists appearing on the album, including drummer (and the guitarist's brother) Alex Cline, trumpeter and arranger Michael Leonhart, guitarist and recent duet partner Julian Lage, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, Cibo Matto keyboardist Yuka Honda, harpist and Björk collaborator Zeena Parkins, bassist Devin Hoff, and clarinetist Ben Goldberg, among others.
Nels Cline presents music from Lovers on 4/9. Tap here for more information.