Dissonant Odes to a Jazz Piano Great Push the Edges but Preserve the Melodies

To assess this tribute, I created an iTunes playlist that paired each of experimental guitarist Nels Cline's interpretations with Andrew Hill's piano-based originals. Unfair, I know. But the remakes hold up quite well, Cline's post-Sharrock skronk never taking away from Hill's indestructible melodies. Well, except for the 23-minute-plus trudge through a medley of "No Doubt," "11/8," and "Dance With Death"—those are all great pieces, but they really didn't need to be transformed into an excuse for an extended accordion-drum passage. On the other hand, "Yokada Yokada" and "The Rumproller" work quite well as guitar- and clarinet-led jump blues; their grooves emerge intact. New Monastery isn't a sequel to Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane, Cline's 1999 pairing with Gregg Bendian; his dissonant, spiky approach to jazz guitar, however, remains a constant. The absence of piano is a pretty good indication that Nels is after, if not top-to-bottom revamping, something close to it. But Hill's compositions are built to last, and they retain their distinctiveness no matter how hard New Monastery pushes the edges of "jazz" acceptability. If a band like Wilco (into which Cline was assimilated in 2004) must exist, at least their success funds albums of this quality.

 
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