Nels Cline & Julian Lage, Room

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 11.25.14 in Reviews

You probably know Nels Cline as the 58-year-old lead guitarist in Wilco. Julian Lage is equally familiar in the jazz world for being, among other things, the subject of Jules at Eight, a 1997 documentary short about the guitar prodigy and his family. (“Whatcha been listening to lately?” someone asks Julian. “Lots of Wes Montgomery,” replies the kid nonchalantly. “Coltrane.”) Cline and Lage were introduced by the late jazz-guitar great Jim Hall, to whom the set is dedicated, and their first duo project is a lucid cross-generational alternative to the stripped-down LP Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy recently made with his son Spencer.

Combining bright harmonic movement with a casually sophisticated down-home sensibility

Playing either mature acoustic instruments — Lage’s ’39 Martin, Cline’s ’62 Gibson — or amplified hollow-body archtops (two guitars per track, no overdubs), the duo orbit around each other like the gracefully twisting painted-metal objects by Alexander Calder, the artist celebrated in the album’s final, Lage-composed track. Like frequent Lage collaborator Dave Grisman’s “Dawg Music,” Room frequently combines bright harmonic movement with a casually sophisticated down-home sensibility. One guitarist is more likely to solo against the other’s swiftly picked single-note pattern than vamping chords.

Consisting of six compositions and four improvisations, Room mixes short pieces like the quasi-minimalist “Abstract 12″ with longer, more ambitious tunes. Dedicated to Cline’s wife Yuka Honda, “Freesia/The Bond” drifts through more than 10 minutes as the guitarists trade off lyrical solos against each other’s relatively simple, elegant accompaniment. Even when the pair scampers along tightly in 11/8 or 7/8 time, as in “Odd End” and “The Scent of Light,” the flashiness is minimal. Two guys in a room rarely sound as comfortable with each other.