Born in Los Angeles in 1956, Cline began playing guitar around the age of 12, when his twin brother Alex began learning the drums. By the time Cline reached his twenties, he was heavily involved in L.A.'s improvisational community and, in 1978, appeared on his first recording, Openhearted by multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia. He went on to appear on over 70 releases, lead several of his own groups — including the Nels Cline Trio and the sextet that followed, Destroy All Nels Cline — and tour internationally with a variety of bands. As a composer, Cline has scored two films in addition to writing much of his own material. He has also produced albums for himself, G.E. Stinson, and Jeff Gauthier, among others.
Bassist Eric Von Essen and Cline met up in the late '70s and began working together, recording an album of duets called Elegies that was released in 1980 on the Nine Winds label. Von Essen got involved in an orchestra with violinist Gauthier, and it wasn't long before the three formed a group of their own. Alex Cline sat in on their first concert and eventually joined the three permanently, resulting in the group Quartet Music, which remained together throughout the '80s. In addition to his work in Quartet Music during this decade, Cline worked with Liberation Music Orchestra West Coast, was a member of a rock band called Bloc, worked with Julius Hemphill as well as Charlie Haden, and released his first album as leader, Angelica, which included members of Quartet Music, saxophonist Tim Berne, and more.
Cline's recording experience with Lage on Room proved indelible. The pair often speculated on what an album would sound like if they chose a rhythm section. To that end, Cline asked bassist Scott Colley and drummer Tom Rainey (who had played hundreds of shows together as a running rhythm section in the '90s) to accompany them at a residency at New York venue The Stone in 2016. At that time, Colley and Lage were playing in Gary Burton's group and the bassist eventually joined the guitarist's trio. Cline had played with everybody before. The live gig went so well it laid the foundation for the recording sessions that resulted in Currents, Constellations, Cline's second Blue Note album, with the intrepid quartet calling itself the Nels Cline 4. He wrote seven of the record's eight compositions; the lone cover was Carla Bley's "Temporarily," a rarity closely associated with the Jimmy Giuffre Three. According to Cline, the point wasn't to feature "sovereign" guitar solos less, but to facilitate an ensemble sound, whether marked by heated collective improvisation or a more delicate and precise approach on the contemplative pieces. The funky preview single, "Imperfect 10," was released in March along with a promotional "in-studio" video. Currents, Constellations was released in mid-April a few days before the band — with bassist Jorge Roeder sitting in for a previously committed Colley — undertook a European tour. In the spring of 2020, Cline and pianist/organist/synthesist Jamie Saft aided drummer/composer Bobby Previte in the RareNoise trio outing, Music from the Early 21st Century. ~ Joslyn Lane & Sean Westergaard