Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Gorgeously Spare, Intimate New Trio Album From This Era’s Foremost Jazz Guitarist

The last time this blog was in the house at a Bill Frisell show, it was at the end of August, 2018. The iconic guitarist played that gig solo, seated in the front window of the Russ and Daughters cafe on Orchard Street. The only way to get in right before the show started was by sneaking  around the back. As you would expect, the place was so crowded that it was pretty much impossible for everybody but those in the very front to actually watch.

Frisell sized up the space and built a sonic cocoon, full of lingering poignancy and bittersweet rusticity, using his loop pedal sparingly as he built multitracks and then played over them during the set’s most hypnotic and intricate interludes. He delivers that same kind of intimate ambience on his latest album, Valentine, streaming at Spotify. Considering how prolific Frisell has been lately, it’s something of a surprise that this is his first album with his current all-star trio, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston.

As usual, the material is a mix of Frisell originals and covers. He opens by reinventing Malian guitar legend Boubacar Traore’s Baba Drame as a spare, slinky blues, Morgan artfully works his way outward from starkness and then back as Royston hypnotically rides the traps, the bandleader switching up textures to loopy twinkle and then a fade down into the first of his own tunes, the atmospheric Hour Glass.

The title track is a playfully cuisinarted, strolling blues as Big Lazy (or Tal Farlow) might have done in a lighthearted moment: it gets funnier the more spare the playing becomes. The rhythm section supply the atmospherics in Levees as the bandleader evokes a hazy but restless Mississippi delta of the mind.

He sticks with a slow tremolo for the spacious, distantly haunting, chilly Winter Always Turns to Spring, Morgan a steady reminder, Royston a more ghostly presence. Keep Your Eyes Open, a somewhat wry front porch folk-tinged song without words, has some of the rhythm section’s most subtly colorful work here.

The trio strip Billy Strayhorn’s A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing to simplest, most strikingly direct terms, Morgan as spare as the bandleader, Royston contributing a skeleton of a shuffle on his snare. They go back toward the delta in Electricity: Morgan’s intricately interwoven harmonies are a clinic in imagination and good taste.

Likewise, the bassist can’t resist cowboy voicings as Frisell adds southern soul and resonant reverb riffage to Wagon Wheels, an early 30s western swing tune. He goes back to enigmatic blues tuning, shadowed by the bass and drums, in Aunt Mary, sparkling with judicious overdubs.

The trio wind up the record with a socially conscious triptych, first slowly coalescing into a reflective take of the Burt Bacharach hit What the World Needs Now Is Love. Frisell switches to acoustic for his own warmly matter-of-fact, pastoral Where Do We Go. The trio close with a 6/8 soul version of a Frisell favorite, We Shall Overcome. He’s made much darker and more intense albums than this, but none more entrancing. This isn’t big news, but you’ll see this on the best records of the year list in December, Lots of big changes coming in the months between – let’s hope we get there without everybody taking the needle of death. 

August 16, 2020 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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