Best known as Wilco’s lead guitarist and an avant-garde improviser, Nels Cline scores a major triumph as composer and arranger with this two-CD musical interpretation of paintings by Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha. Producer/poet David Breskin, who masterminded a similar project with guitarist Bill Frisell and paintings by Gerhard Richter, came up with the concept. Cline offers six works inspired by Ruscha’s Silhouettes pictures and 33 fragmentary pieces evoking his Cityscapes, played by two different ensembles that include Jon Brion, Jeff Gauthier, and Alex Cline, among others.
Given the broad themes Breskin wove into his accompanying poetry— the history of Western civilization, “American subdivision,” and “the American misadventure in Iraq”—it’s not surprising that the work has expansive soundtrack-like qualities. Cline’s full arsenal of guitars and effects merge into an orchestral palette of classical, jazz, and rock instruments (cello, violin, trumpet, reeds, organ, keyboards, harmonica, synth, percussion). The music ranges from soft acoustic strumming to corrosive “grindcore” noise, with echoes of Morton Feldman, surf and sci-fi, John Zorn, electric Miles Davis, Sonic Youth, trip-hop, and more. Exquisitely detailed sonics heighten the textural brilliance and allow intimate communion with the emotional nuances.