on indefinite hold, guitar recitals or concerts featuring guitar
are at a premium, and – in this critic’s humble opinion
– too few and far between. But with the recent (December
2015) announcement that Jacques-Andre Dupont (guitar junkie and
Guitar Show organizer) has replaced Alain Simard as CEO of Spectra,
the company that hosts the Montreal
International Jazz Festival, there is every reason
to expect more of the guitar this summer (2016) and throughout
this year’s 2015 festival, when it was announced that Nels
Cline and Julian Lage were performing, I was instantly transported
to guitar heaven. I should add that the night before my appetite
was wonderfully whetted by the remarkable Sylvain Luc, who was
joined by Richard Galliano in a precious homage to Edith Piaf.
rare guitar ensembles are in jazz, it took only a couple of minutes
for Cline and Lage to make the case that two guitars not only
lend themselves to the free play we expect from jazz, but in the
hands of two masters composition and exploration can play equal
roles. For their delicious Salle Gesù concert, which featured
an exciting and bold repertoire, it was their highly original
tone and exquisite temperament that distinguished their approach,
and provided for a warm and cozy relationship with the audience.
meticulously crafted sound is as delicate as you’ll find
coming out of the electric guitar. Sometimes the notes sounded
like soft crib bells, or a pin dropped on a marble floor, or were
contoured to mimic the flutter of wings on the fly. Acoustic space
was effortlessly made to reveal its grace and delicacy. What both
delighted and challenged the listener were the unexpected eruptions
of dissonance, and brief but arresting forays into atonalism that
were weaved in and out and around the more conventional melodies.
We often think of atonalism as the interval of choice to convey
alienation, fragmentation and despair. But in the measured hands
of Cline and Lage, the atonal was made to evoke unfamiliarity
and strangeness of place, but never threatening – a somewhere
you might feel like staying for a while, while remaining wary
and alert. It only gradually dawns on the listener that these
two guitarists are anything but reserved, that however conservative
is their timbre and touch, they are both explorers, creating in
real time structures that defy the delicate sound on which their
edifices rest. The crowd that had spontaneously gathered around
the CD table after the concert spoke to the satisfactions the
two guitarists produced.
have accused the duo of not taking enough chances: I emphatically
disagree. Their music is deceptively open-ended with no shortage
of spontaneity as they trade off the lead and rhythm and/or basslines,
sometimes braiding their leads into a single run or, on the ascent,
running together highly complex chord sequences. They consistently
blur the line between the conventional and experimental; it might
sound folksy one moment and Twilight Zone the next.
life is tenuous, fragile, is one of the signature existential
leitmotifs in their music, the mood of which requires a complicity
that cannot be forced, and which goes far beyond the notes. As
such their concert was an unqualified lesson in respectful listening.
Cline and Lage remind us that the small sound is not incompatible
with the development of large ideas, that it is not necessary
to assault an audience to get its attention, that respect, which
is in point of fact mutual respect, travels far and wide and creates
its own rites and referrals.
is a message or idea imbedded in their musical choices, it is
that life, for all of its braggadocio, is as ephemeral as the
note that is plucked and disappears in the same instant.
supreme Nels Cline and Julian Lage invite us to take part in their
dialogue with the infinite, and the conversation that ensues persuades
us to stay. Their duo album, Room, is the perfect setting
for that rewarding long day’s journey into the light.