Guitarists Nels Cline and Julian Lage team up

Free-form rocker Nels Cline, left, of Wilco and jazzman Julian Lage pair up at the Garde Thursday.
Free-form rocker Nels Cline, left, of Wilco and jazzman Julian Lage pair up at the Garde Thursday.

Yeah, yeah, we know: Never the twain shall meet.

But sometimes the twain DO meet - and sometimes we're all better for it.

Consider tonight's performance by Nels Cline and Julian Lage in the Oasis Room of New London's Garde Arts Center. While they're two of the most remarkable guitar players in contemporary music, it's also true that their respective styles are very disparate.

Make that protractedly, extremely disparate. In fact, one might suggest that the pair of them sitting down together onstage and performing a set of music that's largely improvisational seems - on the surface - a bit of a shaky proposition.

There's Cline, the free-form sonic frontiersman whose aural canvases are spashed with the day-glo colors of Jimi Hendrix, Robert Fripp, Sonic Youth, his work as a member of Wilco, and of course his own outer-space brain.

And jazzer Lage: the monstrously gifted one-time prodigy who turned pro at SEVEN. His typically acoustic style and compositions demonstrate the dextrous virtuosity of Django Reinhardt, Jim Hall and Charlie Christian - but are uniquely flavored with all manner of European chamber and world-folk influences.

Lage and Cline were in fact introduced by Hall, the massively respected guitarist whose reputation as a teacher is anchored in his view that Music is not just Art but also a method for soothing problems and breaking cultural barriers on a Much Larger Scale.

"I'm a guitar nerd, and obviously I like meeting and collaborating with guitarists," Cline says by phone from New York City. "I'd heard Jim talk about Julian in a delightfully reverant way, and it made me eager to meet him and see what's up. When we did meet, well, Julian's a remarkable, very funny dude. And when I saw him play - oh, my Lord. I'd never heard anyone do stuff like that. I knew immediately I wanted to play with this guy."

When Lage and Cline actually did sit down and break out the guitars - going acoustic and with Cline eschewing any of his trademark pedal board effects - it worked instantly.

"There's a very rich tradition of jazz guitar duos and this type of collaboration dating back to the '50s and crossing all sorts of cultures, across America and Europe and including tropicalia and African music," Cline says. "And we were both immediately reminded of the wealth of possibilities."

At first, just playing together in non-gig situations, Cline says, the music was completely spontaneous. As their chemistry became obvious, though, and the idea of touring together solidified, Cline brought some new compositions to serve as jumping-off points for the more riverine free-form moments.

"It's all been very rewarding," Cline says. "Even the improvisational pieces take on their own sense of composition because every little idea gets seized upon and explored."

Lage, also an incredibly prolific composer, started to bring in material to their rehearsals and performances, and now any given night is rife with structural possibilities.

"We have all sorts of things to get us started," Cline laughs, "and then the problem is to get us to stop. Sometimes we'll be very tonally and harmonically scripted, and sometimes not. We try to touch on all these worlds we like - each of us has his own inherent pallette, and they can be wildly dissimilar. And that's when it gets fun."

Nels Cline and Julian Lage, 7:30 tonight, Oasis Room, Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London; $40; (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org, nelscline.com, julianlage.com.

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