Saturday, March 28, 2020

CD Review: Bobby Previte/Jamie Saft/Nels Cline - Music from the 21st Century

Bobby Previte/Jamie Saft/Nels Cline
Music from the 21st Century

(I realize this is the third album featuring Nels Cline which I've blogged about in the less than 10 days. But it does present him in a different context, one that shows up his rocking side a little more.)

When a non-jazz playing group gets together for rehearsal, the following scenario is not too out of the ordinary. Each member of the band starts setting up, testing levels, effects pedals, hardware, etc. Inevitably one member of the band starts warming up on a riff or some sort of idea. As the rest of the band gets situated, someone else joins in. It keeps happening until everyone is playing together.

That first "tune" of rehearsal can be exhilarating. Volumes are set to the ideal level that the player wants. Without an audience or sound person or even a clock to interrupt the moment, there are no expectations to be fulfilled, only a riff to get lost in. The potential and excitement of the rest of practice can come to light in that first spontaneous song.

I've been in that situation many times at practices. Sometimes completed songs have sprouted from those riffs but there have also been many times where the initial magic of those uninhibited moments can't be replicated in the exact same manner. Close to it, yes, but never with the same unbridled spirit.

Bobby Previte (drums), Jamie Saft (Hammond Organ, Fender Rhodes, MiniMoog) and Nels Cline (guitars, effects) are no run of the mill trio though. So when they launch into "Photobomb," it might be a spontaneous riff, but it's a riff that takes that practice space warm-up scenario and multiplies it by ten. "Photobomb," which opens this album, has a two-chord vamp, though the first chord is played over seven beats, with the second one only hanging for the eighth beat, so it's almost a one-chord groove. But repetition is always stronger when it's built on an extended series of notes like that. Saft's organ bares its sharp teeth, with an overdriven bass line and a mix of drawbar settings that fall somewhere between Larry Young and Rod Argent. Before long, Cline is wailing and Previte is pushing his brothers as hard as he can. And that's just the first track.

Music from the 21st Century contains an almost equal amount of vamps or jams - whatever you want to call them - and free wailing. The ten tracks come from a mini-tour the trio took in May of last year through Upstate New York and Central Pennsylvania.

It was the first time Cline and Previte had come together in an improvised setting (the guitarist played on two of the drummer's composed projects). Vin Cin recorded and mastered the sessions, which has the clarity of a pure studio session, until the last few seconds, when the group ends together and the audience can be heard. Previte pared down the prime moments into tracks that, for the most part, maintain focus. Rarely does the band just spins their wheels, waiting for the inspiration to hit. Even the 14-minute "Occession," which only takes shape mid-way through the track, has an interesting build.

While Cline's fretwork conjures some of the most outlandish textures - going from clean jazz to metallic crunch to effects-heavy snowstorms - Saft's Hammond gives the music the sonic glue. He sounds downright monstrous in a track like "Paywall," where he captures the spirit of Deep Purple's Jon Lord, only to go into a walking bass pedal line as the track fades. "Parkour," which follows, picks up on the same idea, but it's hard to tell if the tracks came from different nights of the tour.

While listening to the album, Saft continually reminded my ears of Rod Argent's sound with his post-Zombies band Argent, best known for "Hold Your Head Up." Ironically, Saft, Cline & Previte threw some covers into their sets during the tour, which included the Zombies' "She's Not There" and Led Zeppelin's keyboard-heavy "No Quarter."

If this album gets a buzz, maybe they'll follow it up with a set the cover tunes and call it Music from the 20th Century.

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