Nels Cline has been the instrument through which some extremely good and some extremely mediocre musical materials have been forged. I first became aware of him when dispatched to interview John Goodsall of Brand X at the Alligator Lounge (Santa Monica, Calif.) many years ago. Beforehand completely unaware of the guy, save that I knew of his bro (radical jazzbo Alex Cline), as I sat outside the Lounge awaiting my comp'ed entry, I heard the most furiously dynamic King Crimson-esque music thundering out of the pub / concert hall. Grabbing the ticket-taker, I inquired: "Who on Earth is that?". It was Cline's trio (Mike Preussner - drums, Bob Mair - bass), Nels going berserk on the guitar, compeers wailing away behind him. I decided then and there I had to interview this guy - good thing, too, as Goodsall proved to be a flake (in fact legendary for that trait, magnificence in axemanship to the side) and I never got that talk. The Cline colloquy appeared in i/e magazine, much later picked up by the Perfect Sound Forever website.
Then he issued what I, and I alone apparently, consider to be one of the great guitar releases: Silencer, a disc to stand alongside McLaughlin's Devotion, Peter Green's End of the Game, and other eclectic six-string masterpieces though immensely more variegated. A number of noisy experimental Trio releases issued (Chest, Sad, Ground, Right of Violet), far-end Zappa/Morphogenesis/Kenneally/Wiggins affairs most definitely not for everyone but quite satisfying to noise aficionados. From that point on, Cline chose, to my mind rather unwisely, to join combos like Bloc, which completely submerged a once-maverick mentality. Thus, for 14 years, Right having seen light in '96, I forgot about the guy. Now he's re-emerged with Mike Watt (bass, vox), soon-to-be wife Yuka Honda (keys), and Dougie Bowne (drums) in a highly unusual quartet.
The promo lit cites Beefheart, Can, Sun Ra, and others as influences, to which I'll add Subotnick (Nels, the first song, is highly Morton-esque), DaDa, George Crumb and all the old Nonesuch electronicists, the era of Groundfault and kindred labels (Accretion, etc.), and Bog only knows what else. In fact, those myriad artistic madmen are far more present than Sun, Don Vliet, and the others. Watt dubs in his loony rant-singing (should you want to see how intense and offbeat this cat is, catch him on the wondrous I Need That Record! documentary [here]), and the group cycles through noise, rock, prog, jazz, avant, and damn near everything except Mitch Miller, favoring what has so far best been called 'art damage' music (of which Mike Patton is far and away the master).
Floored by Four will delight the happily increasing small horde of modernly twisted listeners who don't fear the shock of the new. Don't expect a reprise of the old Crimson-esque days of the Cline concert trio, though. The closest Floored by Four comes is by way of a certain kindredness to the extraordinary Jamie Muir's cross-involvement in 1973's Crimso Lark's Tongue and 1974's Music Improvisation Company (then '75 rolled around, and he was off to a zen monastery, never heard from again), well reflected here while traipsing off into musical string theory. The disc jumps from Cage/Stockhausen to Nonesuch to rock-psych-prog to the anarchisms of the restaging of the 70s in our new 00s. Nor is the CD a Cline-fest but rather a chaotic jumble of every participant's sub-, novo-, and meta-consciousness.
All of which is to note that Floored by Four is rarefied work, only for the adventurous, and even then may take a bit of adjustment. So far, I've run through the disc three times, liking it better each visit. Truth to tell, the definitive art damage release has yet to be issued, but there exists a decent-sized catalogue of past and present bands careening in that direction (Creedle, Fantomas, Keneally, etc.), and I'm convinced the evolving wrinkle will prove to be the next epochal fluxus point in new music. Sure, it'll be stabilized by then, if that term can ever really be applied, but it'll also be a platform to support a wealth of new positions and avenues of expansion previously unperceived.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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