On New Monastery, guitarist Nels Cline adds Bobby Bradford on cornet, Ben Goldberg on clarinet and Andrea Parkins on accordion to his usual trio in an exploration of the music of Andrew Hill. A wide variety of moods are explored, from the dirge "Dance With Death" to the tongue-in-cheek blues of "Yokada Yokada/The Rumproller," where Cline's solo puts a new twist on cliché licks before the song falls apart into an electronic drone.
There is a looseness to the arrangements that at times borders on the chaotic, as on the group soloing in "Not Sa No Sa," but Cline always reigns things in just in time by introducing the melody of the next tune in a medley or signaling the end of the piece. Most of the songs have a very collective feeling - while everyone gets plenty of room to solo, they are often accompanied by the rest of the band playing background figures. This is a real strength of New Monastery. The musicians aren't simply using Hill's music as a springboard to their individual ideas, but really absorbing themselves in the songs.
Cline brings a lot of variety to his playing, sometimes going for a traditional jazz guitar tone, other times spicing up the sounds with distortion, delay and other effects. The feel of the songs, too, encompasses relatively straight-ahead jazz, slow droning moments and an almost prog-rock bombast (in a good way). The more I listen, the more I get from this remarkable album.