Guitar Month in Take Five: Jeff Parker, Susan Alcorn, Nels Cline, Trio Grande and Alex Wintz

Nov 16, 2020

Trio Grande, “Elli Yeled Tov”

The members of Trio Grande — Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman, British-born saxophonist Will Vinson and Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez — share an effervescent spirit as improvisers, and the supreme technical command to give shape to any idea.

A fine, self-titled new album, just out on Whirlwind Recordings, further reveals the generosity and ease of their rapport as a collective. Here are three accomplished bandleaders committed to an ideal of selfless exchange, and above all to the give and take of the moment at hand. “Elli Yeled Tov,” which Hekselman composed with carnival energies in mind, deftly illustrates the point. A video for the tune, which has its premiere at WBGO, was pieced together from the musicians’ home studios and living spaces — y it nevertheless speaks of communion. 

Sánchez makes the tune’s complex meter feel crisp and flowing, and Vinson’s improvisations on alto (a brief one up top, and more later on) have a radiant spark. Hekselman’s staccato articulation turns his guitar into another percussion instrument, but he still works in lyrical ways: check his solo, which works in a sly quote from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at 1:35.

Nels Cline Singers, “Segunda”

Share the Wealth, the new album by Nels Cline, covers a thrilling range of style over the course of an hour and 20 minutes. It’s the third Blue Note release by Cline, whose previous efforts for the label have been more moderate affairs — but it’s also the seventh album by The Nels Cline Singers, which has always been a band of enthusiastic extremes. It opens with an incantatory take on “Segunda,” by the eminent Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso; a video for the track was shot among the favelas outside São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Cline patterned his arrangement of the tune after a transfixing version that Gal Costa recorded for her 2011 album Recanto. It rides a thrumming, syncopated drone — an ideal situation for longtime collaborator Scott Amendola on drums, veteran associate Trevor Dunn on bass, and fellow traveler Cyro Baptista on percussion. The track gives Cline ample room for elaboration, which he shares with saxophonist Skerik and keyboardist Brian Marsella — each in sharp, feverish form.

Rempis/Parker/Flaten/Cunningham, “Cutwater”

Jeff Parker has been well represented on record this year, between his own fine album, Suite For Max Brown; new efforts by Chicago Underground Quartet and Exploding Star Orchestra; and guest spots on albums by clipping. and Andrew Bird. But it would be a shame if all that eclipsed his work on Stringers & Struts, by a free-improv collective whose other members are saxophonist Dave Rempis, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Jeremy Cunningham.


Recorded in 2019 at Elastic Arts as a Chicago Jazz Festival after-set, the album stands as a testament to active listening and shifting equilibrium. “Cutwater,” the 20-minute-long opening track, finds Parker and Rempis setting an initial web of delicate counterpoint, before the full band kicks in. The dynamic evolves endlessly throughout the performance, with room enough for a texture-mad solo guitar exploration that begins around the 8-minute mark. This is music for mind and spirit, fully expressive at every juncture.

Susan Alcorn, “Pedernal”

Pedal steel guitar ace Susan Alcorn has long been revered in experimental circles; for many jazzfolk, she came onto the radar via Away with You, an album by the Mary Halvorson Octet. On her new album Pedernal, Alcorn repays the favor by featuring Halvorson in an ensemble alongside violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ryan Sawyer.

The title track is a fitting overture, with a melody that nods toward cinematic westerns. Alcorn actually wrote the theme during a monthlong retreat in New Mexico; its title references the Cerro Pedernal mesa, immortalized by Georgia O’Keefe in My Front Yard, Summer, 1941. The stately grandeur of the melody meets with some turbulent abstraction, before making a lovely turn homeward.  

Alex Wintz Trio, “Textures”

Peruse the credits on some standout straight-ahead jazz releases of the last several years, and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter guitarist Alex Wintz. A Morristown, N.J. native, he appears on recent albums by Jeremy Pelt, Roxy Coss, Nick Finzer and Etienne Charles. His own new effort — Live to Tape, on the Outside in Music label — captures the spirit of a working trio with Dave Baron on bass and Jimmy Macbride on drums.

As the title implies, the album was recorded in a single afternoon, the old-school way. From a distance, and even on closer inspection, it might seem to cast Wintz as a traditionalist. Which is why his cover of “Textures” — as seen in studio footage above — is such a welcome curveball. In its original incarnation, on Herbie Hancock’s 1980 album Mr. Hands, the tune is a multitracked solo construction, performed on an array of synthesizers. Wintz smartly adopts the song’s rhythmic undertow to his palette, turning it into something like the Jim Hall Trio channeling Vernel Fournier’s “Poinciana” groove.