Nels Cline Credit: Chelsea Lauren

This rugged improvising trio is composed of musicians with extraordinarily disparate personalities who seek common ground while expressing their individual voices. Guitarist Nels Cline and saxophonist Larry Ochs both established themselves in California, the former in LA, where he added a punk ethos to his mixture of free jazz and fusion, and the latter in the Bay Area as a founding member of influential saxophone quartet Rova. These days, however, Cline lives in New York, where he’s spent most of his time shaping solos of textural richness and architectural concision as a member of Wilco along with exploring a late-blossoming interest in balladry, as heard on his gorgeous solo album Lovers (Blue Note). The genesis of this trio was a 2014 duo gig Ochs played with drummer Gerald Cleaver, which inspired him to invite Cline to join in. Cleaver—one of the most versatile percussionists alive—is perfect for this configuration. He adroitly shifts gears between everything from feather-stroke delicacy to rocklike tribal thumping to direct flow-and-response to his partners. As heard on a live recording Ochs shared with me, the drummer masterfully feeds the trio’s front line, which enhances its proclivity for stealthily switching functions; Cline might shape a hovering drone only to counter the loosely coiled tenor spell cast by Ochs with a sudden surge of pedal-enhanced mayhem. Elsewhere the guitarist constructs lapidary patterns, injecting his tone with an acidic bite, yet progressing with a calming patience that is caressed and shadowed by terse sax figures. The pair’s steeplechase machinations develop with an organic flow that is exhilarating as it moves from the lyric to the chaotic, the serene to the explosive.   v