The Nels Cline Singers Share the Wealth

The Nels Cline Singers doesn’t have a singer. The free jazz ensemble doesn’t even have a sewing machine. There you have it! Two! Two! Two jokes in one! A novelty name, yes, but the septet’s eclectic, shape-shifting music is serious musical business, though also as much fun as you might expect if you know bassist Trevor Dunn’s old group Mr. Bungle, which in 1990 started out as a death metal band, then a pseudo ska band and by 1991 into one sufficiently eclectic to draw the attention of John Zorn who produced its debut album.

In 1995 Mr. Bungle released Disco Volante (WB 9-45863-1) a dual parallel grooved record (similar to one Monty Python released) filled with eclectic, avant-garde, genre-shifting jazz and classical influenced musical dada. The album opener is “everyone I went to high school is dead.” Vinyl buyers also got a bonus 7” single with a non-album “B” side “The Legendary Paper Project” by The Secret Chiefs Trio.

Share the Wealth is the Nels Cline Singer’s 7th album. For some reason the previous six were not on my musical radar. I have catching up to do.

Listening to the group’s wildly eclectic third Blue Note album is like the enjoyment you get flipping through a friend’s record collection. As you flip and familiar albums appear, your head generates music.

Here the group does the flipping, opening with a hypnotic drone version of Caetano Veloso’s “Segunda” (Veloso is another shape-shifter) followed by a series of originals spread over two LPs. You can (and should) watch the “Segunda” video here:

The free-form radio station record drops the needle on a set that mixes Mercury Rev with Stereolab, Weather Report, Jeff Beck (play “Princess Phone” and about 1:51 tell me what you hear), Pat Metheny, wah-wah pedal rich and some Japanese psych rock band atmospherics—and I’m just touching the surface of what’s only suggested by the all hell breaks loose inventive improvs produced by group members whose names you’re perhaps familiar with in other settings (that is, if you’re unfamiliar with The Nels Cline Singers, : Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, drummer Scott Amendola, free-blowing saxophonist Skerik (whose associated groups have hilarious names like Crack Sabbath and The Dead Kenny Gs) and of course bassist Trevor Dunn.

With its eclectic, fast-paced mix of musical genres and quick-shift track-by-track instrumental line-up, Share the Wealth is about as much musical and well-recorded sonic fun as one can have on 2 LPs. If the noisy free-for-all “Stump the Panel” isn’t your thing, you’re sure to find pleasure in the moody, ethereal “Beam/Spiral” (until you finally come around to loving the “Stump the Panel” anarchy).

Well-pressed on 180g vinyl but this isn’t the first Ian Sefchick lacquer cut with no lock out groove (on one side), which allows the stylus to slide onto the paper label!

I’ve kept this double LP set spinning way too often since I first played it. It’s gummed up the record review works but well worth it! Check it out and remember— the louder you play it, the more you'll like it!:

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Canuckmgh's picture

Hi Michael,

Glad to know you've "discovered" The NCS, the lineup of which has varied from album to album. Others I thoroughly enjoy include Draw Breath, Instrumentals (also without singers, ha...!) and Macroscope.

If you haven't check it out, I highly recommend Lovers, under Nels' name alone, beautiful stuff.



Glotz's picture

Nice Certs reference! lol.. The Dead Kenny G's.. LMAO! Awesome!

Love Nels, and I bought the last one on vinyl (not the Singers, tho). Draw Breath is really exemplary of his talents..

And with Wilco live and on recording, he just electrifies the room! His angular and explosive styles really proves how atypical he is.

And the concept 'Share the Wealth' is very apropos these days... but I'm guessing he was referencing the players on the recording as well.

I also agree/get the Pat Metheny and Jeff Beck references. Very evocative of those artist.

audiotom's picture

Hey Michael

Love your column
You mention Mr Bungle but leave no hint that Nels Cline is the lead guitarist legend of Wilco.
He has actually released over a dozen solo albums - all worthy
You might give Wilco or Jeff Tweedy’s solo work a spin too