Bill Frisell: Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones

Marshall Bowden

Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones

Label: Nonesuch

Bill Frisell is a jazz guitarist primarily by virtue of the influence of jazz guitar virtuoso Jim Hall; otherwise, Frisell is an amazing amalgam of stylistic influences that make him something of the Cassandra Wilson of the guitar. Melding ambient soundscapes, the twang of country music, the wide-open chords of pure Americana, and the bluesy electric sculptures of Jimi Hendrix, Frisell is one of the most original guitarists to come down the pike in a long time.

On this recording, Frisell has surrounded himself with an auspicious jazz-based rhythm section consisting of powerful, innovative drummer Elvin Jones and bassist/composer/arranger Dave Holland. That both of these musicians have played in settings as varied as those in which Frisell has found himself promises a brilliant recording on paper, and this is one of those times when that promise is fulfilled in the actual recording.

The genre bending is present from the start, with the opening "Outlaws", which morphs from a jangly guitar intro to a bluesy, discordant jazz piece to an open, swaggering shuffle. Jones shines, both defining and pushing the beat, while Frisell offers a virtual history of jazz and blues guitar influences. At the same time that he is playing what amounts to hard bop, he is delving into the Hendrix-by-way-of-Wes-Montgomery grab bag, and the trio swings as hard as any in recent memory. Dave Holland caps the opener off with a wonderfully melodic bass solo. "Twenty Years" is a waltz that allows all three players to demonstrate their mastery of space, with understatement being the key element. "Coffaro's Theme" combines a folky sound with some ambient washes, with Frisell's trademark pedals, loops, and tape effects sounding like an organic part of the mix. "Blues Dream" is indeed both bluesy and dreamy, with a late night feel and a few harmonic elements that hint at a more foreign locale than most of the tracks on the album.

If Frisell sometimes seems to mine the same Americana-laden sound as John Fahey, he does it with fewer nods at virtuosity and a more direct approach. His cover of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" is much looser, giving a jamboree jam approach to the piece that belies its lyrics, which are not heard here. While a bit more languid than one might expect to hear from guitarists of Foster's time, the arrangement and overall feel convey the composition's wistful, hopeful melancholy very well. The trio's rendition of "Moon River" is simply gorgeous, stripping the song of its Breakfast at Tiffany's association and portraying it as a beautiful melody with sophisticated harmonic underpinnings. Jones offers some stunning brushwork, and Holland's support for Frisell's solo flights are perfect.

One cannot help comparing this group with John Abercrombie's Gateway trio, featuring Abercrombie on guitar, Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. That group has recorded four albums over a period of more than fifteen years, and I'd love to think that Frisell might find the results of this outing fascinating enough to repeat the experience periodically, though the chances of that are probably slim. Like the Gateway group, this trio demonstrates an amazing level of interplay, with Holland and Jones well able to get inside Frisell's mind and offer not only support, but also real interaction and subtle colorations. I find it easy to imagine those who like to listen to more adventurous and improvisational rock-oriented guitarists loving this album as much as jazzheads. One of the elements of the Gateway group that was intriguing was its ability to do extended group improvisations that were musically successful, like some kind of jazzy Grateful Dead. Frisell, Holland, and Jones could no doubt provide some intriguing results with group improvisation as well. How about it, guys? If not, at least we have this album to enjoy, and if you enjoy guitar improvisation by a master musician, it comes highly recommended.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.