Bill Frisell – Music IS (2018)

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From the moment you hear the charming, softy picked notes on “Pretty Stars” that launches Music IS — even before the sample looping sets in — it’s very obvious that this guitar is played by Bill Frisell.

To understand why Frisell is one of the world’s top guitarists, first try to categorize him. Is he jazz? Or is he country? Folk? Avant-garde? Nope, he’s all of that, and more. No matter what style — or blend of styles — he plays, he’s instantly recognizable. And he’s always been that way: listen to Lyle Mays’ self-titled album from 1985 or even further back to his first record with Paul Motian (1981’s Psalm) and you find even then that Bill was Bill, within two widely divergent settings.

But Bill Frisell is never more Bill than when it’s only Bill, and no one else. Music IS isn’t his first solo guitar record, but it’s been since 2000’s Ghost Town when he’s last made such an album. This later date, however, features only his music this time — new and reused — and is simply more engaging and mostly stripped of his (admittedly wonderful) weirdness.

Frisell doesn’t linger long for most of these fifteen tracks; as usual, his mission is simply to illuminate the notion of song. The instrument played may be an electric or acoustic guitar, bass or even ukulele, but with his deft manipulation of his looper pedal, that effects mechanism effectively becomes an instrument, too. Whether it’s sampling subtle background oscillations on “What Do You Want?” or a multi-layered construction assembly of guitars soft and tart on “Thankful” or the avant-garde wandering of “In Line,” Frisell adds harmonic heft and richness to every song by cloning himself.

For some selections, he re-imagines some of his better-known tunes from years past. The original version of “Rambler” from an early ECM release of the same name was probably more intriguing for its blend of flugelhorn and tuba alongside guitar, but with the composer alone with his guitar, it’s easier to appreciate the straightforward, provincial melody. He does this, sans effects, on the alternate version. For that other, extended go around, Frisell introduces his bag looping tricks from the get-go, on odd synth-y figure to go alongside his Americana tones that eventually are joined by complementing figures. Even with all that, it feels pretty bare, but intimate.

If you’re a Bill Frisell fan, you already know how this is going to sound and so all this is to say: you won’t be disappointed.

Music IS will be available March 16, 2018 on OKeh Records.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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