Jazz Is (Was) Dead
Nels Cline's latest band reclaims fusion from smooth-jazz jerkoffs.

Nels Cline is a rare beast.

A shapechanging guitarist with few (or no) equals, Cline is as chimeric as he is prolific: He can spit flames of ugly, atonal avant-skronk, or unspool quicksilver solos with the slickness of a veteran prog-rocker. He's collaborated with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore in a display of free-improv firepower. Indulged his pangs for countrified twang with Carla Bozulich and the Geraldine Fibbers. Lent nimble leads to classically leaning compositions by his brother, Alex Cline. Exploded white-noise nebulae with bassist Devin Sarno. Reinterpreted, on guitar, John Coltrane's sheets-of-sound saxophone with drummer Gregg Bendian.

But, most importantly as far as this week is concerned, he joined with jovial jazz drummer Scott Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff to form the Nels Cline Singers.

Synthesizing many of Cline's previous endeavors, the trio (sorry, no actual singers present) apparently feels no need to leash itself to any particular style. At a Nels Cline Singers show, song No. 1 may be a windy prog sprint, with Cline's bony, pliant digits scrambling across the fingerboard so fast they blur into ghosts. Song two might then pull in the reins, slowing to a jazzy trot, Hoff slithering down the vertical neck of his contrabass, his face contorted as though inspiration pains him. Song three, perhaps a funk-bop jaunt, sees Amendola lost in the spacy grin of a private joke, manipulating his rhythms electronically. Cline might warp his tone into digitized spurts with a guitar micro-synth. Blip laser bursts through his pickups with a toy pistol. Or stir up whirlwinds with his plectrum, his hands once again gone invisible with speed.

You just never know.

That's probably why Cline's suddenly become in-demand with bootleg tapers: With the horizons wide open, the best of these improvs have the feel of a frontier expedition, a rare feat for jazz-rock fusion these days. Even if it's not possible to go back to when fusion was the future, the Nels Cline Singers act like they're going to try. Hey, they called Columbus crazy, too. John Graham

Dante's, 1 SW 3rd Ave., 226-6630. 9 pm Wednesday, Oct. 23. 8+ advance (Fastixx). 21+.

The Blackbird, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949. 9:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 27. Cover. 21+.

Question Time With Pirate Jenny
Portland's leading pirate rockers come clean.

Piracy. Who doesn't love it? While most cities are sadly bereft of buccaneer rock bands, Portland is blessed with Pirate Jenny--and with the quartet's upcoming Pirate Halloween Party. After receiving numerous death threats regarding frequent misuse of "pirate lingo" by local scribes, we caught up with PJ's four crewmen to learn more about the dread phenomenon of Pirate Rock.

Willamette Week: You seem to think Pirate Rock doesn't get the respect it deserves. Why?

John Morgan (drums): In most states, it is illegal to use lethal weapons to intimidate or coerce. Bringing our swords into the bars is risky enough.

To many, pirate life is nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash. Is this a misconception?

Ron Lee (bass): They're forgetting the occasional guitar solo.

Kevin Hendrickson (guitar): Piracy is about camaraderie, democracy and independence. Oh, yeah--and stealing.

I've read that you object to "pirate lingo" in reviews of your work. Does this mean you'll "hoist me up the yard-arm" if I slip in a few "arrrrrghs"?

KH: We would, if you knew what a yard-arm was.

The pirates currently operating in Indonesia's Malacca Straits prefer to attack container ships and commercial frigates rather than private yachts. Me, I'd attack me a yacht. Your thoughts?

JM: You would be floored to read the latest NRA stats on boating enthusiasts who own high-caliber handguns. Pirate Jenny is opposed to the use of firearms against civilians. That leaves small slips and commercial non-union tugs.

Blackbeard or Jean Lafitte?

RL: Both, but only in a threeway.

JM: Blackbeard, 'cause he is pro-union.

Paul Ianotti (guitar, xylophone, keyboards): Blackbeard. He would burn hemp cords under his hat for that "my head's on fire" look. Very Pirate Rock.

KH: Laurens de Graff. He often showed mercy to his victims. He was a sensitive pirate, like us.

Tell the truth. Have you ever been "blown ashore"?

RL: Why yes! In fact, I met Pirate Jenny on my maiden voyage to Portland. My wrecked ship was "blown ashore." I arrived sick, bedraggled and vomiting upon the docks, and was taken straightaway to the Pirate House. There, that very evening, still sick and somewhat dizzy, I stood proudly with them in the basement, calling loudly for the death of Santa Claus himself. Zach Dundas

Pirate Jenny plays the Halloween Pirate Party on Saturday, Oct. 26, at Blackbird, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949. Djin Teeth Fangs and Brotherhood of the Orange Cone also appear. Pirate attire encouraged. 9 pm. $8.



It is a sad time for the music industry--or so the estimable captains of that industry would have us believe. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a global trade group no doubt just as fun at parties as its name suggests, is crying like a teenage Morrissey fan surrounded by drunk varsity linemen, because CD sales are taking a bath in the bidet.

Around the world, the value of CDs sold in the first half of 2002 dropped 9.2 percent from 2001 sales. Sales in the U.S. are off by about 7 percent, and U.K. sales are finally feeling the bite after warding off equally doomy 2001. The Japanese consumer is really avoiding the little silver coasters--sales beneath the Rising Sun plummeted 14 percent.

Why? A reasonable person might guess a worldwide economic downturn has something to do with it, coupled with a correction following years swollen by phenoms like Britney and those tasty boy bands. You high-concept types could argue that stagnant artistic outlooks, slow-footed corporate management and years of sleazy price-gouging have finally brought the wolves to the door.

But remember who we're dealing with. The music industry knows who it wants to blame: you. You and all your criminal pals, busily and heartlessly downloading and swapping and sending The World As We Know It (And They Prefer It) straight to hell!!! The bankrupting of Napster is not enough! Why, if you and your modem don't knock it off, soon Jon Bon Jovi may resort to peddling Richie Sambora's sexual services on eBay!

A terrible state of affairs. Except this theory doesn't quite explain why CD sales are up 5.2 percent in France, a fully wired and download-ready nation. Qu'est-ce qui se passe? Another significant fly in the ointment: While the multinationalized industry is slumping, at least some independent companies are booming. Hiss & Vinegar contacted a few indie tycoons, trying to get a quick-'n'-dirty sense of how things were going in these "tough times."

"I've been hearing things are bad for years, but, knock on wood, we're in the middle of our best year," says Darren Walters, co-owner of Delaware super-indie Jade Tree. Seattle's Sub Pop, perennial subject of speculation as to prognosis, says it's doing just fine.

Jason Kulbel of hep Nebraska indie Saddle Creek says, "We haven't seen a decline, because the label is getting more and more well-known--popular, if you wil."

Not everyone is so sanguine. For instance, Alex Steininger, guru of Portland's In Music We Trust, says many fearful retailers have sliced their shipment orders, which naturally hurts business. Rob Miller of tough Chicago alt-country label Bloodshot quoth, "We weathered the post-9/11 downturn pretty well, and the first quarter was perfectly fine. Since spring, it's been down...but not that much, because, I think, we cater to people who are passionate about music, rather than the casual consumer of product."

What does this mean? Who knows? But, whaddya know, most of the labels contacted in our informal survey make MP3s available via their websites. Generally speaking, indie labels avoid treating their customers as potential criminals, and seem to be heeding the industrial axiom that, in business, Technology is (almost) always right.

Meanwhile, don't you feel sad for the majors? They really are in a pathetic state. Help them, won't you, by purchasing yourself a shiny new Tom Petty CD?

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