Monday, December 19, 2011

Bill Frisell All We Are Saying... 2011

Still looking for a last minute present for the music lover in your life? Good thing you stopped by.

Bill Frisell is a remarkable guitarist, and he approaches the instrument, and music in general, in novel and interesting ways. He releases records at a remarkable pace. Since 1983, he's released 30 records under his own name, and at least another 35 with Paul Motain and Joe Lovano, Joe Zorn, and Zorn's band Naked City. And then there's the 15 or so other one-off collaborations, and at least 80 other records where he has made guest appearances. The guy stays busy. If you don't know his name, you can't possibly be interested in jazz unless all you listen to are old vinyl records your dad left you (not that there's anything wrong with that). But he also plays country and bluegrass inflected jazz, and some of his records are easy and simple (in a complex way) while others are more challenging. And some of them are aggressively avant-garde.

This one is nearly perfect. An examination of the John Lennon songbook, it is way way way better than almost any tribute record you can imagine (it feels like I must be forgetting some other one this good). Longtime collaborators Greg Leisz (steel guitar), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Tony Scherr (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums) work with Frisell like five people with one brain. One very complex, integrated, high-operating musical brain. They don't let these melodies stray very far, so if you like John Lennon's songs, this could probably be the first jazz record you ever buy, and you'd still love it.

I certainly don't know everything about Frisell's work, but I've liked most of the ones I've heard, and I especially liked Good Dog, Happy Man from 1999. This reminds me of that record. A mellow, laid back approach to almost everything, the record delights at first and just gets better and deeper with additional listening. When they start to jam (and they never rock real hard), they can develop an amazing groove without breaking a sweat.

Every track works. Highlights abound. The opening Across The Universe invites you gently into Frisell's world. A languid You've Got To Hide Your Love Away features Liesz to lovely effect, while Scheinman lights up In My Life. But more than any one of these musicians' efforts, it is the interplay between them that comes so naturally to them, that diverse single-mindedness, that will leave you slowly, quietly staggered.   

It's a quiet, relaxed, monumental record. A glowing tribute to melodies you know so well already. They aren't so much dissected, as gently pulled apart so you can take a look inside, so you can feel how someone else feels these songs, someone who cares about them.

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