“This is a theme from our past that we’re making up on the spot.”
So said guitarist Nels Cline to introduce one piece in Saturday night’s duo show with his twin brother, drummer Alex, presented by the Jazz Bakery at the New Roads School’s Moss Theater.
And then they did this.
That little bit was mere prologue. Soon the piece transmuted into something else. And then it transmuted into a series of transmutations, flowing and shifting, passages of power, of delicacy, of fury, of silence … and always of incandescence. And as Nels suggested, wittingly or otherwise, it brought together all of their shared lifetime, expressed vibrantly in the moment. Well, watch and listen. This next video clip is long, yes. You might not stick it out, or you might skip from point to point. But you might not be able to help yourself and wind up watching it through.
For all the spontaneity, this is really live composition. It’s what what these two did through the whole concert, working from themes of various sources — a couple from the works of late jazz drummer Paul Motian, a few from Nels own work, including a gorgeously rich variation on “You Noticed,” from his most recent album, “Lovers.” And it’s what they’ve done through their whole lives, from when they were kids growing up just a mile or so from this very spot, which Nels amusedly recalled used to be a hot tub dealer.
No matter what they’ve done on their own (Nels, most famously, in the band Wilco for the last decade-plus), they’ve had bands together and contributed to each others’ projects with regularity. When Nels did a concert at Royce Hall last year, Alex was in the band, though so were 17 other musicians. And Nels is among the featured players in Alex’s Flower Garland Orchestra, heard on last year’s stellar “Ocean of Vows” album.
Remarkably, the show Saturday — in part celebrating their 62nd birthday a couple of weeks ago — was only the fourth time in more than 50 years of performing together that they’ve ever done a public concert with just the two of them on stage. They seemed as perplexed by that as anyone in the room.
Each of them made full use of their considerable respective command of their instruments, Alex moving between chiming bells and gongs and thundering drums and cymbals, Nels enhancing and manipulating his nonpareil fretboard skills with a variety of effects both electronic and mechanic. But most profound was the meshing of their playing, the natural complementary dynamics that we tritely but probably truly can credit to their shared genetics, not to mention those decades of working together.
For all the musical wonders with which they’ve been involved, this will stand as a highlight for all on hand to witness it, and hopefully for the two of them who performed it. That won’t be lost even if they make this a more regular occurrence. And let’s hope they do.