Thollem and Nels have collaborated on five published albums to date: the first and fifth with William Parker on Porter Records and ESP-Disk’, the 2nd and 4th with Michael Wimberly on Relative Pitch and ESP-Disk’ and the 3rd with Pauline Oliveros on Roaratorio. In addition to their upcoming album with Terry Riley, Thollem is also preparing a new solo project based on samples from each of the 6 respective albums called Worlds In A Life which he will begin performing as a project-in-progress this summer.
“a startlingly fresh take on the free improv ethic”
All About Jazz NY
Worlds In A Life: solo sextet
A live remix of the 4 Thollem/Cline trios on a multi-timbral synthesizer. The performance includes samples from their albums with William Parker, Michael Wimberly, Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley. This concept was born out of the process of mixing The Light Is Real on the Wavestate which Thollem will be using for this performance. The albums include: ‘Gowanus Sessions I and II’ with William Parker (Porter Records and ESP_disk), ‘Molecular Affinity’ with Pauline Oliveros (Roaratorio), ‘The Light Is Real’ with Terry Riley (ESP_disk), and ‘Radical Empathy’ and ‘Reality and Other Imaginary Places’ with Michael Wimberly (Relative Pitch and ESP_disk).
This concept was a natural progression born out of the process of mixing the new album with Terry. With Thollem in New Mexico and Terry in Japan, the duo recorded vocal improvisations remotely. Thollem then made samples of these recordings and mixed them in real time through his synthesizer. This piqued a curiosity about composing with the samples from the album itself and by extension the entire series of trios.
“Free jazz at its zenith.
The Gowanus Session decisively redefines the description of a trio with this instrumentation.”
– Ken Waxman, New York City Jazz Record
Radical Empathy is the second in a series of three musical encounters between keyboardist and musical instigator Thollem McDonas and multi-disciplinary guitar whiz Nels Cline. The first collaboration, titled simply The Gowanus Session (Porter Records, 2012), featured bassist William Parker and was notable for its resolute resistance to free jazz cliché. Uncannily, it found Cline, McDonas, and Parker, with virtually no advance preparation, on very much the same page. Instead of the expected improvisational pyrotechnics (though, with three virtuosos in the room, some of that was inevitable), the trio with Parker focused on the production of unusual timbres, overtones, slowly mutating repetitive structures, and unexpected juxtapositions of sound. The trio on Radical Empathy extends and augments the timbral experiments of The Gowanus Session while dealing with rhythms in a much more direct way. The result, at once familiar and alien, constitutes a startlingly fresh take on the free improv ethic.
– Dave Wayne, All About Jazz, NY
A conjoining of heavy minds has come to fruition this year with the trio full length outing on the Porter Records imprint The Gowanus Session. The immeasurable guitar musings and 3-D sheets of Nels Cline shaft out a sea of ideas as legendary free jazz double bassist William Parker anchors the group down with one of the newest leading pioneers into high forms of experimental music, pianist Thollem McDonas. Sonic visionary and Los Angeles native Nels Cline is easily one of the most innovative and technical guitar players alive. William Parker is one musician in the free jazz world who has appeared everywhere, much like Nels Cline. His studies under John Coltrane’s bassist Jimmy Garrison and many others has given his stand up bass work a presence and command only few have achieved. Pianist Thollem McDonas plays in a pure setting on this session, with a grand piano serving as his vehicle of expression. Cluster space chords reminiscent of Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra define his outer world note configurations that are a large basis to the compositional approach he instills with The Gowanus Session.
– Erik Otis, Sound Colour Vibration
The Gowanus Session es un proyecto cooperativo plenamente entregado a exploraciones sonoras que -al conjuro de la vasta iconografía que puebla la música improvisada del siglo XXI- va nutriendo la experiencia auditiva de una estética aleatoria e incidental en donde la representación del sonido se funde con el fin expresado en la propia naturaleza de la música y en el que los conceptos de atonalidad, invención espontánea y el desarrollo exponencial de lo abstracto parecen aventajar a las ideas convencionales de armonía, ritmo y melodía. En la constitución de la novedosa propuesta de Thollem Parker Cline, además de lo señalado, resultan capitales la utilización de una alineación timbrica infrecuente (piano, contrabajo y guitarra eléctrica) a cargo de un trío de notables ejecutantes, el marcado temperamento democrático del proyecto (claramente acentuado por la ausencia de un líder visible) y la falta deliberada de exposiciones solistas y acrobacias técnicas gratuitas a favor de un permanente diálogo instrumental colectivo.
– Sergio Piccirilli, El Intruso
Glaring expressionism coupled with rip-roaring layers of acoustic-electric sound-sculpting maneuvers yield the bountiful fruit on this manifold studio date. When guitarist Nels Cline isn’t tearing it up with the popular alt-rock band Wilco, he’s knee-deep in progressive-jazz, free-form experimental and jazz-rock formats. He’s catapulted to the upper echelon of modern guitarists, paralleling the colossal faculties of bassist William Parker and pianist Thollem McDonas.
– Glenn Astarita, All About Jazz, NY
Using beefy chording at kinetic speeds that would be recognized by Oscar Peterson, McDonas turns the nearly 16-minute “Lives” into the CD’s climax. His cumulative glissandi appear to follow their own logic before being prodded back into line by Parker’s measured slaps. Against this thickening force, Cline buzzes spiky flanges, rips scratchy tones from his guitar neck and references psychedelic drones. Free jazz at its zenith, The Gowanus Session decisively redefines the description of a trio with this instrumentation.
– Ken Waxman, New York City Jazz Record
La session s’apparente à une manifestation sonore venue d’une autre planète, aux paysages crépitant et toxiques, exsudat des Enfers que n’aurait pas renié Lucio Fulci. Pourtant, les musiciens sont plutôt souriants lorsqu’on ouvre le disque. C’est alors que la pièce de résistance « Lives » vous tombe dessus comme les chutes du Niagara (auxquelles il ne sert à rien de dire « chut ! », remarquez). Des tunnels de calme relatif sont a-ménagés à l’intérieur de chaque pièce, mais ils ne sont que poisseux marécages débouchant sur de nouveaux paysages dévastés. Sun Ra nous l’avait dit: « It’s after the end of the world, don’t you know that yet? ». Puisqu’il en est ainsi, autant choisir son poison. Celui-ci fera très bien l’affaire.
– David Cristol, Jazz Magazine
“Church jams and death rays, soap operas and noir escapes, psychedelia and electrocutions — no matter where the conversation turns, keyboardist Thollem McDonas and guitarist Nels Cline are right on top of it. The tumbling, rattling drums of Michael Wimberly (Mickey Hart, Charles Gayle) lend this improvising trio the feel of the ’60s avant…”
– Greg Burk, MetalJazz
These pieces are largely leaderless, with minimal direction from Thollem, whose striking solo work often forges ahead with confidence in his spontaneity; here, he is more seemingly reactive, cherishing moments of synchronization like on “Pores,” which gradually escalates its piano/guitar interplay with both fanned chords and solitary figures. Certain tracks like “Thinkers Mix” have a ramping chaos, with Cline’s soaring guitar and Wimberly’s urgent drumming that sounds like it’s hammering out three simultaneous Morse-code messages on ride cymbal, snare and bass drum, and “Thought Pools” is a complicated mesh with scampering, quick guitar bursts, bleeding energy yet never disintegrating into total disorder.
Other tracks are more delicate, like the haunted melancholia of “Rain Drips To” that tip-toes through careful piano notes as if avoiding to wake sleepers. One diversion is “Howled Ground” on which Thollem demonstrates a love of timbre by channeling his notes through boutique analog pedals, as if trying on outfits in a fitting room. The kind of synthesis on Radical Empathy, with the players constantly absorbing and comprehending, forms music that develops its own personality apart from the performers, as if a child could possibly have three biological parents.
– Ernie Paik, Chattanooga Pulse
This moody and wonderful album pairs up guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist Thollem McDonas and percussionist Michael Wimberley for a journey through a heavy and hazy musical darkness. Radical Empathy is an excellent example of three fellow travelers listening deeply to each other and creating an album of mesmerizing depth and texture.
– Paul Acquaro, The Free Jazz Collective
“The Gowanus Session is a sound sculpture. It seems purposefully unlistenable…So is this a good record, or even an enjoyable one? I really don’t know, but I do know this: It’s interesting, and I keep listening to it.”
– Steve Greenlee, Jazz Times
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