(130) Ben Ratcliff, The New York Times -- 9/12/06

The compositions of Andrew Hill, one of the best composers in the last 50 years of jazz, don't glow with the recognizable style of a certain time. They use unusual harmonies and can sometimes seem to be missing the proper signposts. Nobody performs them as effectively as his own groups, with Mr. Hill on piano. Not even close.

But the guitarist Nels Cline has taken up the challenge; New Monastery is a learned and original try. Mr. Cline, who has become more widely known since joining the rock band Wilco two years ago, has a long background in West Coast jazz and experimental music.

He is a fast, articulate player, and no slouch on soloing through chord changes, as his version of Mr. Hill's "Reconciliation" proves. He dislodges the melodies from these pieces, bringing them forward with the clarinetist Ben Goldberg, the cornetist Bobby Bradford and the accordionist Andrea Parkins. Mr. Hill's music can be soft and mumbly, but Mr. Cline forces immediacy on it, and frequently leaps beyond a standard jazz guitarist's tone. He distorts his instrument for stabbing, notated chords during someone else's solo; he broadens his tone, putting little rips in it, sounding like Mr. Bradford; he plays a line through a digital processor and repeats it, moving the pitch up and down or making it warp and shimmer.

Instead of a pianist the group uses Ms. Parkins on accordion, improvising with fractured aggression. Most of these pieces come from Mr. Hill's mid-1960’s records on Blue Note. With the exception of Mr. Bradford, who was playing semi-free jazz like this in the early 60's, and the occasional Eric Dolphy echo from Mr. Goldberg's bass clarinet, the band doesn't evoke the old records. Mr. Cline can be a fiddly, punctilious musician, even when building clouds of noise in a free improvisation, or when soloing in blues form on "The Rumproller"; it helps him remake the music in his own way.

Ben Ratcliff
The New York Times