A recent version of American Cream; photo by Adam Bubolz.
In the English language, there is but one word that should--and often does--strike fear and sadness into the minds and hearts of both music and comedy fans: improv. Usually, that word carries the icky baggage of performers who are underprepared, or worse, so cocksure of themselves that they perform with a gusto that resembles an utter disdain for their audience. Why even discuss best case scenarios when so many times a night has been ruined by an ill-timed "joke" or an unintentionally hilarious saxophone solo? Even though this blog post is about a band that utilizes many of improv's most basic, musical tenets--I'd rather throw the term out the window altogether than apply it to Minneapolis, Minnesota's American Cream. Instead, let's talk about spontaneous construction.
I use that phrase not only because it will undoubtedly resonate with my fellow fans of the annual Home Resource building competition, but because I feel a similar spirit is invoked on American Cream's recent double lp, Nathan. Certainly, one isn't immediately struck by the sense that these songs are portions of extended, improvised jamming, because--much like Can's Tago Mago or Ege Bamyasi--the songs on Nathan follow a kind of spontaneous logic that often resembles more traditional compositional techniques. Instead of featuring individual instruments or soloists, the "band" operates as a singular entity, producing a song out of spontaneous textures and harmonies. More simply put, the improvised element becomes invisible, and the record only seems that much more impressive because of how the individual pieces were "composed." This spontaneity is even more apparent in a live setting, when the line-up on any given night can be totally different from the prior performance--yet always something compelling, interesting, and of its moment.
Another fascinating Nathan factoid is that the eleven tracks on the lp all feature different iterations of American Cream--the one constant member being Nathan Nelson (also of STNNNG and Private Dancer). In total, twenty-four musicians play on the record, and--despite the large cast--its consistency indicates an attention to nuance and subtlety that separates Nathan from the ever increasing pack of records carrying the improv banner. But don't wait until Total Fest XIII to hear American Cream. Check out the track "Don't Buy It," or stream the entirety of Nathan here.