Nels Cline's Fiftieth Birthday Party

January 6, 2006, I attended one of the best concerts ever, a jam in celebration of the 50th birthday of avant-garde guitarist Nels Cline and his twin brother drummer/percussionist Alex Cline at Club Tropical in Culver City. They chose only songs with “peace” in the title, mostly jazz and avant-garde pieces. A host of local luminaries played, including saxophonist Vinny Golia and violinist Jeff Gauthier. Nels conducted all twenty-odd guest stars in a send-up of “Give Peace A Chance,” with each player soloing on a verse (in avant-garde style) and everyone playing the familiar chorus in unison.

At the back of the stage, throughout the show, artist Norton Wisdom painted, smeared, and repainted on a backlit plastic sheet. Often collaborating with Nels, Norton currently has a show of his work up at Chouinard Art Institute. And what a night! The club had to turn people away because the room was full, and the audience went wild after every solo and every piece.

I first met Nels Cline in 2000, when his band (with harpist Zeena Parkin) played at the Knitting Factory in New York City as part of the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival, right before my pal Joe GallivanÂ’s Rain Forest Initiative took the stage. Last December 22, 2005, Nels recorded mind-bending lead guitar parts on four of my songs for my upcoming CD What LivingÂ’s All About.