The highly anticipated solo album from one of the world’s premier guitarists, Bill Frisell, is finally here. This is Frisell at his most distilled and, as you would expect, melodic, ethereal, and imaginative. Recorded in August 2017 at Tucker Martine’s studio in Portland, OR and produced by longtime collaborator Lee Townsend, the album features 15 Frisell originals, some brand new and others culled from previous albums with “In Line” and “Rambler” from his first two on ECM.
Frisell claims to have been playing music for over 50 years now, having appeared on well over 250 records, with over 40 as a leader. Yet this is his first solo outing. Frisell plays electric & acoustic guitars, loops, bass, ukulele, and music boxes. The focus is Frisell telling musical stories in his inimitable genre-less way as classical, jazz, folk, and blues all factor in at some point. Throughout, you may catch yourself thinking “I’ve heard snippets of that melody somewhere.” Some tunes are naked, truly solo renditions while others are more orchestrated with overdubs and his signature approach to looping. Another hallmark is his rich guitar tone, true throughout, as well as elegant, harmonically rich passages, and his seemingly relaxed playing. No one uses space better and he has few, if any peers, in knowing when to let the notes reverb and echo.
Frisell, who thrives on improvisation, resisted going solo for so long, preferring instead to be a collaborator. He comments on this effort, “Playing solo is always a challenge. For me, music has all along been so much about playing with other people. Having a conversation. Call and response. Playing all by myself is a trip. I really have to change the way I think.” Frisell prepared for the album by playing his compositions for a week at The Stone in NYC. “I was purposely trying to keep myself a little off balance. Uncomfortable. Unsure. I didn’t want to fall back on things that I knew were safe. My hope was to continue this process right into the studio. I didn’t want to have things be all planned out beforehand.”
He knew from the beginning that he wanted to record his own compositions, but it was challenging to sift through the many sheets of paper to decide on the 15. He did have some help. “Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine are two my longtime, closest, most trusted musical brothers,” says Frisell. “We’ve been through thick and thin. They clear the way for me to just PLAY. When we got to the studio I brought a big pile of music and we went from there. Let one thing lead to the next. Trust the process. In the moment. We mixed as we went along. The composing, arranging, playing, recording, and mixing all became one thing.”
The new tunes are: “Change in the Air,” “Thankful,” “What Do You Want,” “Miss You,” and “Go Happy Lucky.” Even his classic tunes like “Ron Carter” and “pretty Stars,” for example, sound different here as he tweaked the arrangements. Frisell is truly one of our treasures and his modesty is refreshing. He claims that he’ll never figure music out, offering this – “One of the amazing things about getting older is being able to revisit things that I heard of played long ago. There’s always something new to discover, something to uncover. New pathways open up. If I’m really lucky I might even realize that I’ve learned something along the way. It’s far out looking at my own music through this long lens.”
Be forewarned that like most of Frisell’s music, this is quiet but subtly complex, especially the layered pieces. It’s not background music. When you give your full concentration, it becomes that much more rewarding.
- Jim Hynes
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