Lucid Culture


CD Review: Bill Frisell – History, Mystery

Hey, have you heard the latest Bill Frisell cd? He’s not the kind of artist we usually review here, because to do so would be somewhat redundant. The guitarist routinely takes a weeklong stand at the Vanguard and sells out, and does the same at much larger halls around the world, so he doesn’t exactly need any more press than he already gets. But in case you don’t know him, you should. How to describe? Sort of the anti Al DiMeola. Every year, Frisell leads the league in the Fewest Wasted Notes category. He makes everything he plays count. Unsurprisingly, his style is thoughtful and exploratory, with a warm, conversational vibe. He set the paradigm for that on his 2004 double live cd East, West, which is like being in Frisell’s living room for a late night hang –  everybody’s had a bunch of wine, then Frisell plugs in his guitar and starts exploring. This one follows in the same vein but much darker: the eerie opening chords sound straight out of the Big Lazy songbook.


Also a double live cd, it’s arranged as a suite with a lot of recurring themes. The first cd centers around two recurrent melodies, Probability Cloud and Struggle, both considerably apprehensive. Led by the string section (Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola and vet Hank Roberts on cello), the supporting cast here typically goes for a somewhat austere, ambient feel, cornetist Ron Miles or saxist Greg Tardy stepping out with some boisterously bluesy playing when the mood calls for it. The rhythm section (Tony Scherr on bass and the redoubtable Kenny Wollesen on drums) follows Frisell, keeping it beautifully terse and simple. And Frisell keeps it counterintuitive. The Baboucar Traore African desert blues gets a light, breezy blue-sky treatment; the Sam Cooke standard Change Is Gonna Come, by contrast, starts out with a sweet, purist vibe and then gets dark fast. Frisell knows that change is scary, change looming in the distance, barrelling down on you in the same lane at sixty miles an hour and you’d better do some changing yourself, quick. And then he brings the darkness back quickly with Monk’s Jackie-ing.


The album’s second cd is much the same, with a couple more recurring themes, this time more upbeat and traditional-sounding with the cornet and sax taking a higher profile. But like East, West, it’s the first of the two cds that you come back to time and time again: if you could call it an “album side” – actually, it’s a whole album – it’s one of the alltime great ones. Frisell is about to embark on a weeklong stand at the Blue Note starting January 6 through 11 with a couple of other first-class composers, drummer Paul Motian and iconic bassist Ron Carter, a unit especially likely to work up some serious alchemy.


See you here tomorrow. Happy New Year!


December 31, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews

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