Bill Frisell – All We Are Saying (2011)

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The thing that makes today’s release of All We Are Saying feel so connective is guitarist Bill Frisell’s willingness to simply let things happen — to accept life as it goes.

He selected the songs for this John Lennon tribute as they occurred, either to him or to a crack band of familiars that included Jenny Scheinman (violin), Greg Leisz (steel guitars, guitars), Tony Scherr (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums). Then, without much rehearsal, they set about interpreting the songs — each one of them a little microcosm of memory, stretching from the early 1960s (“Please Please Me,” “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”) to the heart of the Beatles creative zenith (“Come Together,” “Across the Universe”) to solo successes (“Give Peace a Chance,” “No. 9 Dream,”) to the late singer’s halted third-act comeback in 1980 (“Woman,” “Beautiful Boy”).

Yet that very history, something that might have made a lesser talent too careful, is only glancingly referenced here. There are times, in fact, when the underlying melodies, so familiar as to become rote, don’t bubble up until the song is well underway. While Bill Frisell clearly bonds with the core emotions that each song initially held, he’s not afraid to move beyond the obvious template.

That gives the album a thrumming vibrancy, like wind suddenly billowing up through the songs.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Bill Frisell discusses his John Lennon tribute album ‘All We Are Saying,’ signature career moments and how what he can’t play helped shape his sound.]

When All We Are Saying is at its best, a lyrical, almost diaphanous meditation — in particular on subtly seductive ballads like “Julia” and, perhaps the album’s signature moment, a tender reworking of “Nowhere Man.” In many ways, none of these songs is as you’d expect. “Beautiful Boy,” for instance, is somehow transformed into a joyous narrative as Frisell, Leisz and Sheinman play in surging unison. “Imagine” takes on a dreamlike reverie, while “Hold On” swings with a newfound insistence. “Mother,” this darkly harrowing song in its initial form, becomes a ruminative blues howl. Only the most overt rock numbers fail to completely delight, as moments like the fiddle-driven “Revolution” seem to revert to a homey, but ultimately repetitive cadence.

All We Are Saying, issued today on 429 Records/Savoy Jazz, continues a period of stunning productivity for Bill Frisell, who has now released three albums in 13 months. Beautiful Dreams featured violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston, while Sign of Life showcased Frisell’s 858 Quartet of Kang, Scheinman, and cellist Hank Roberts.

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