Percussionist, drummer and composer Alex Cline offers one of the most dynamic and challenging releases to come out so far this year with Continuation, his first recording as a bandleader since 2001's The Constant Flame. Simple definitions seem inadequate in attempting describe Cline's compositions -- contemporary, orchestral, jazz, Eastern, avant-garde. All of these influences and styles seem to merge as a singular organic piece in Continuation.
Playing with his brother, guitarist Nels Cline, in bands from the age of 11, Alex Cline has collaborated, played and performed with a wide range of musicians, including Charlie Haden, Charles Lloyd, Marty Ehrlich, Jamil Shabaka, G.E. Stinson, Bobby Bradford and Vinny Golia, to name a few.
For Continuation, Cline assembled a special group of musicians that include Vancouver-based cellist and composer Peggy Lee, violinist and Cryptogramophone founder Jeff Gauthier, bassist Scott Walton and keyboardist Myra Melford. All of these musicians have a long track record in composing, collaborating, recording and performing in jazz, contemporary and avant-garde circles. All have been involved with various improvisational groups, an important key to the triumph of Continuation. "I'm really personally interested in the balance between composition and improvisation," said Cline in a recent interview with the music blog site Downbeast (www.downbeast.com), "and I've been told by musicians on most of my projects that they, at times, find it hard to tell what's notated and what isn't, that they don't know where the one ends and the other begins. To me, it's a sign of success."
There is a seamless quality to the fluidity of the instruments on Continuation; each musician compliments one another, even in the most experimental, or "free," segments. There is an intricate chemistry. The pieces have an underlying metaphor or tone with a connection to nature. "Nourishing Our Roots" and "Clearing Our Streams" articulate the sound of life moving underneath a glacier, allowing for numerous metaphors (other than the obvious). "Fade to Green," a song dedicated to the late drummer Dan Morris, contains an understated timbre, while maintaining a dark playfulness, with a startling improvisation between Cline and cellist Lee that drives the piece. "Steadfast" is exuberant and free-flowing, much like the blooming of color during spring and summer months. Both "SubMerge" and "On the Bones of the Homegoing Thunder" are explorations on the violence of nature itself, like a changing river. Melford, who contributes piano and harmonium, is notably exceptional on Continuation. Her use of space, timing, countermelody, rhythm and, at times, cacophonous improvisation, is extraordinary.
Alex Cline's skill as a composer and musician ultimately shapes the moods and provides the direction of the Continuation, while allowing his assembled band the freedom to improvise, creating a unique, challenging, introspective and beautifully expressed recording.