Nels Cline & Elliott Sharp “Open The Door” (Public Eyesore 2013)
I was understandably excited to hear that Public Eyesore was to release a collaboration by Cline and Sharp — two phenomenal guitarists, one firmly in the avant-garde camp, the other approaching such territory by way of adventurous work in jazz and indie rock and best known of late for his regular gig in Wilco. I had mistakenly assumed at first that this was a new thing for these two, but as it turns out, they have other performances and recordings together in their past. Open The Door, unreleased until last year, is among the earliest, recorded in 1999 or 1997 depending on whether you believe the credits or the liner notes written by the musicians. I’m inclined to favor Sharp’s account with the earlier date.
This is ranging free-form acoustic guitar interplay every bit as rewarding as you’d hope from this meeting, maintaining an almost folk vibe in spite of the chromaticism, atonality, and lack of steady pulse. “Blue Particles” dispenses with introductions and tosses us, startled, headlong into a frenetic clatter of muted strings and harmonics before gradually settling into lower-pitched, somewhat droning resonant textures. “Five Tastes of Sour” begins with much more space, evoking for me a calm country morning enjoying the summer sun, breeze, and quiet through the kitchen windows over coffee. Indian or Spanish sounding bends and vibratos cue the energy to pick up, progressing nicely into “Isotropes”, where the cry of a slide brings us out into the fields for a day of work in the heat and dust. Cline opines in the liner notes that “Elliott, in his way, is a bluesman,” and I think this is the point on the album where that is most evident; but don’t expect swingy rhythms and pentatonics so much as barn-wood bends and dust-devil tones. The clarity and nuance of the recording is such that you can even plainly hear the high vibration of the string on the other side of the slide, moving contrary in pitch. Five minutes in it gets more jovial and bubbly with banjo-like picking, a quitting-time stop by the bar downtown for a drink and a dance before settling in for the night.
The slide comes buzzing back in for “Let Her In,” but this is more of an atonal, percussive piece, pushing harder on the sonic boundaries of acoustic guitars. There are chiming chords against droning strums, and later some long, aggressively buzzing drones come in which sound almost like amplifier feedback; I have no idea how they are done, perhaps with some sort of sympathetic vibration involving a drum head or vocals, or maybe there are actual amps involved. Then there’s an abrupt, unexpected cutoff — perhaps the tape ran out. The CD wraps up with a later live recording from 2007, “Pietraviva,” a lively, skittering, noticeably more jazz-inflected affair punctuated with harmonics and muted-string raking, that receives a deservedly enthusiastic response from the audience. The rapport evident between these two guitarists as they adventure together makes Shut The Door a joy.