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Jazz - Released April 12, 2019 | ECM

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Guitar and bass duos are a rewarding subgenre of jazz—pairings like Jim Hall/Ron Carter or Ralph Towner/Gary Peacock come to mind—that’s recently been dominated by the extrasensory connection between the perennially underrated Thomas Morgan and the do-it-all guitarist Bill Frisell. Despite a title derived from the Thelonious Monk-penned standard that’s covered here, jazz is not an accurate description of Morgan and Frisell's increasingly intrepid shared vision. The closest label would be a highly idiosyncratic version of Americana. There's a sinuous take on the iconic "Red River Valley" and a straighter reading of Monk but also dashes of Billy Strayhorn ("Lush Life") and Frank Sinatra ("In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning"), resulting in a mysterious, all-encompassing flavor. As proof of their wide-ranging tastes and ability to make any music their own, a fearless, unlikely mashup of "Wildwood Flower" (made famous by the Carter Family) and the Doc Pomus classic "Save The Last Dance for Me," somehow brings out the essence of both tunes. While Frisell’s signature meandering, idea-heavy, reverbed style provides the bones throughout the nine tracks, it’s Morgan who fills out the flesh. Recorded live in the basement of New York City's iconic Village Vanguard, Epistrophy highlights the close-miked richness of both Frisell's resonant guitar tones and Morgan's soft-edged bass contours. Except for the inevitable coughs that occur during the performances and modest applause between tunes, crowd noise here is largely absent, leaving the guitar and bass to naturally entwine in a wonderfully perceptive and creative dance. © Robert Baird / Qobuz
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Jazz - Released October 4, 2019 | Blue Note Records

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The label Blue Note has welcomed so many pioneering, brilliant and revolutionary musicians over the years, so Bill Frisell’s arrival to the company that was founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Max Margulis hardly comes as a surprise. At 68 years old, the American is not only the most captivating guitarist of his generation but undoubtedly one of the most innovative and influential. In fact, over the past few years Frisell has been breaking down the stylistic boundaries that have confined him to the “jazz” section. His repertoire now combines traditional jazz and folk and he allows himself to venture into country and even rock. This first Blue Note album is a perfect reflection of Frisell’s indefinable style as he lets himself go wherever he desires. With his old friend and cellist Hank Roberts (his fellow student at Berklee College of Music in 1975), singer Petra Haden (Charlie Haden’s daughter with whom he has been collaborating since the early 2000s), and guitarist, bassist and singer Luke Bergman, Bill Frisell has revealed this Harmony as a unique combination of chamber music folk jazz and vocal harmonies. An atypical and intimate reading of classical American music symbolized by the presence of the traditional song Red River Valley and Billy Strayhorn’s standard Lush Life. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released May 26, 2017 | ECM

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For the first time since his album Lookout For Hope released in 1988, Bill Frisell has appeared as the lead act on a record with ECM, the label with which he recorded In Line in 1983, his first disc, a duet with the Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen. Co-lead act, to be more precise, as the American guitarist once again plays a few duets with a double-bassist: Thomas Morgan, 30 years his junior, who played on his recent When You Wish Upon A Star. This Small Town, recorded in public on stage at Village Vanguard in New York, in March 2016, brings together pieces by Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Fats Domino or even John Barry, with the theme from the film Goldfinger. An eclectic repertoire on which Frisell totally makes his colourful and impressionist mark. Master of space and silence, he lets plays his notes parsimoniously, and really integrates his collaborator's inspired bassline into his music. A music of utter beauty. © MZ/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released May 14, 1999 | Nonesuch

No doubt pleased with his countrified direction on Gone, Just Like a Train, Bill Frisell gives us a lot more of basically the same thing here -- only with expanded numbers in the ranks. Bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Jim Keltner return, now accompanied by Wayne Horvitz's understated organ and piano; Greg Leisz on an assortment of fretted instruments, including the Dobro, pedal steel guitar and mandolin; and on "Shenandoah," Ry Cooder's atmospheric guitars. The first tracks of Good Dog, Happy Man pick up right where Gone, Just Like a Train left off -- low-key, perhaps too low-key -- but tracks like "Big Shoe" and "Cadillac 1959" add a bit of swagger to the lope and "Poem for Eva" sports the best tune. Again, Frisell often captures a loose, evolutionary jamming quality in these sessions, playing the country accents off of his jazz sensibilities. Unlike its predecessor, though, you can't imagine this being recorded on a backwoods front porch, for there are some production tricks and distant-sounding electronic loops that give away its Burbank studio origins. Purists on either side of the jazz/country divide are hereby warned to back off so that the rest of us can enjoy this. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 9, 2005 | Nonesuch - Warner Records

The allusion of the title East/West is an apt one; this live double-CD set is a study in contrasts. Recorded just six months apart with two different trios, Bill Frisell really shows both sides of his musical personality. The "East" disc was recorded in December of 2003 at the Village Vanguard with Frisell on guitar (acoustic and electric) and loops, Tony Sherr on acoustic bass and a bit of acoustic guitar, and Kenny Wollesen on drums and percussion. The program here consists largely of well-known standards with a couple brief improvisations and a single Frisell composition. The "West" disc was recorded at Yoshi's in May of 2004 and features Frisell (guitars, loops), Viktor Krauss (acoustic bass), and, well, Kenny Wollesen on drums (no other percussion), but this time the program is half Frisell compositions, a couple pop songs, and the traditional "Shenandoah." On the "East" disc, only three of the ten tunes are longer than five minutes, but on the "West" disc only one track is shorter than eight minutes! The preponderance of standards on the "East" disc keeps the players mostly on the inside tip, even eliciting laughter from some audience members when Frisell hits the intro to the old warhorse "People" (to which he replies, "you think I'm joking or what?"). They do loosen up a bit at the end, for a wonderful arrangement of Willie Nelson's "Crazy" with two acoustic guitars and looping aural detritus, and there's a fun gallop through "Tennessee Flat Top Box." The group improvisations also add a bit of spark. Folks who discovered Frisell in the late '90s with albums like Nashville are going to love this set. Then there are the folks who discovered Frisell in the '80s as a major player in the downtown new music scene along with folks like John Zorn and Wayne Horvitz (fellow bandmates in the groundbreaking and genre-smashing Naked City band). For them, Frisell seemed to be losing his edge a bit as his trademark skronk was traded for acoustic textures. Richter 858 and the Grammy-winning (!) Unspeakable saw him revisiting that earlier sound to some degree, mainly through more extensive use of delays and loops, but the "West" disc here shows he's really back. "Heard It Through the Grapevine" starts out a bit slow, but right from the outset the delay plays a large role, ping-ponging ugly harmonics back and forth as an intro before hitting the first verse. It gradually picks up momentum, until the delays return and Frisell adopts a roaring backward-sounding tone for the end. "Blues for Los Angeles" has even more great looping, some pretty menacing sounds, and some fantastic soloing. "Pipe Down" (originally on Nashville) gets a much slower deconstructed treatment, then kicks into high gear with a serious groove. This set is way more adventurous than the "East" one, and might surprise some old fans who haven't been paying close attention of late. Frisell retreats a bit from the edge for the last track, a nice reading of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" where the delay plays little to no role. With both bands, the rhythm section offers great support, but interestingly, Tony Scherr gets a bit of solo space while Viktor Krauss gets none. Then there's the fact that the album is called East/West, but the "West" disc (the later of the dates) is programmed as the first disc, so you listen to the sets in reverse chronological order as well as the opposite of what the title implies (perhaps "West/East" would have been more appropriate). And while this set is indeed a study in contrast, the common thread is the absolute guitar mastery and singular style and tone of Frisell. His use of double stops, open string voicings, and chordal leads in his playing, not to mention that slippery tone, makes him one of the most recognizable voices in music no matter what the context. And it's clear that Frisell is at home in any context, from playing chestnuts like "The Days of Wine and Roses" to John Zorn speed metal. The fairly naked trio context of East/West really gives the listener a chance to appreciate exactly what he can do, no matter which musical direction they're coming from. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 17, 2009 | Nonesuch

Booklet
Disfarmer was an outsider artist who became famous for his Depression-era photographs of families, farmers, and individuals around his hometown of Heber Springs, AR. This is set by Bill Frisell is the score commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts to accompany a retrospective of the artist's work. Frisell and producer Lee Townsend assembled the guitarist's "country" band for the occasion: violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Viktor Krauss, and steel guitarist and mandolinist Greg Leisz. There are 26 cues in this score. Most of them are very sparse, skeletally melodic variations on old-timey parlor music, country blues, and country music, with a few, such as "That's All Right, Mama," done as fusions of hillbilly boogie and square dance music. There's a version of Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" that's a showcase for the atmospheric power of Leisz's steel guitar, which adds to the melodic shades of the tune. Most of this, however, falls into moody, extremely minimal music that is haunting in nature -- much like the figure of Disfarmer himself, who scared many of the residents of Heber Springs with his strange and imposing presence. That said, if only Frisell's music were a bit more imposing. This approach of his is so familiar by now that the listener knows exactly what to expect from cue to cue. Tempos vary little, from slow to almost static, and the lyric palette is extremely narrow. In their restraint, the players are all excellent, but nobody here, not even Frisell, shines. Still, it is a pleasant recording to listen to if not hang on to. It floats and hovers about the room as a peaceful backdrop. Disfarmer is to be taken as a soundtrack rather than as a Frisell album proper, and listened to as a series of sketches rather than as a fully assembled statement from the artist. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 29, 2016 | Okeh

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The role of music in classic film and television has always been considerable. With When You Wish Upon a Star, the ever-versatile guitarist Bill Frisell draws upon the sentimentality of music heard on screen and how it shapes and informs our emotional relationships to what we see. Frisell, whose own music has been featured in major motion pictures like Finding Forrester and The Million Dollar Hotel reflects: “Music is so rich with all the associations that go along with it, whether it’s the words or a memory you get when you hear it.” Violist Eyvind Kang, bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer Rudy Royston, and singer Petra Haden - who recently released her musical ode to classic film, Petra Goes To The Movies - will join Frisell in re-imagining time-honored gems like “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” as well as music from television favorites including The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Honeymooners. © jazz.org
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Jazz - Released April 14, 1997 | Nonesuch

The vague country elements long dwelling on the fringes of Bill Frisell's music rise to the forefront on Nashville, an exquisitely atmospheric collection recorded in Music City with the aid of dobro legend Jerry Douglas, Union Station members Adam Steffey and Ron Block, and Lyle Lovett & His Large Band's bassist Viktor Krauss. Produced by Wayne Horvitz, the record is both genuine and alien -- while played with real affection for the country form and without any avant posturing, its sound is original and distinct, a cinematic variation on C&W tenets. While primarily instrumental and comprised largely of Frisell originals, Nashville does welcome vocalist Robin Holcomb for a pair of more traditional numbers -- Hazel Dickens' "Will Jesus Wash the Bloodstains from Your Hands" and the Skeeter Davis hit "The End of the World" -- as well as a cover of Neil Young's "One of These Days." © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 27, 2008 | Nonesuch

Booklet
That Bill Frisell should get the "best-of" treatment from his longtime label Nonesuch seems overdue, even strangely so. Frisell began recording for Elektra Musician in 1986 after leaving ECM Records, where he'd recorded a steady string of generally excellent but somewhat low profile albums. Elektra owned Nonesuch Records as well. When Musician ceased to function as a label, Frisell's contract was morphed into the Elektra Nonesuch imprint, and eventually once more into Nonesuch, then Elektra Asylum, then back to Nonesuch. In other words, Frisell has been working with the WEA family for over two decades. In that time he has released no less than 20 albums for the various labels under WEA's corporate umbrella. Which brings us to this 15-cut issue, a first volume in series of retrospective recordings subtitled "Folk Songs." Equally at home in the avant-garde or playing bop, Frisell's chops as a jazz guitarist are well documented, and since he began his work with Nonesuch in particular, his penchant for playing classic American songs from the country, folk, and blues idioms has been heard voluminously as well. This selection has been assembled from albums released between 1989's Is That You? and 1992's Have a Little Faith (an album comprised exclusively of covers) through to 2002's The Willies, with some recordings completely left undocumented here. (We can presume they will be represented in other volumes.) What is here is a set of originals and covers that actively reflect Frisell's deep fascination with American folksong regardless of initial genre -- in his universe it all comes out sounding like him anyway. Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is juxtaposed with the scampy original "Raccoon Cat," which precedes the traditional "Sugar Baby." The relaxed newgrass country of "We're Not from Around Here," with Jerry Douglas on dobro and Victor Krauss on bass, precedes the original "The Pioneers" recorded with banjoist Danny Barnes, formerly of punk bluegrass outfit the Bad Livers and bassist Keith Lowe. The Frisell composition "Ballroom" is sandwiched between a gorgeous reading of the traditional "Shenandoah" and a reverential yet mournful version of John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me." The music, whether blues or country or identifiable as "folk," is all of a piece, both Frisell and producer Lee Townsend seem to be saying, this is part of what the guitarist does and it's a big and valuable part that draws both inspiration from the soil as well as from the root sources these tunes are either composed from or come from on their own. This is basically the softer and more controversial side of Frisell -- though there are some surprises -- and the one that has registered most popular with listeners who buy CDs. There are three tracks here from the very laid-back and melodic Good Dog, Happy Man, and a pair from Nashville, two of his most successful recordings. But this is a beautiful taste as well as a new way to listen to the way Frisell's own music meets that of the masters, and he acquits himself well. This is a terrific sampler even if it only presents a sliver of the artist's range. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released February 25, 2000 | Nonesuch

While Bill Frisell has released plenty of albums under his own name, this is his first true solo album -- the first on which he plays all of the instruments himself. These include electric and acoustic guitar, six-string banjo, and bass, as well as the occasional looped sample. To call the music he creates on this album "introspective" would be something of an understatement. This won't come as a complete surprise to his fans -- there has always been a gentle and meditative quality to his music, and even when he's gotten wild with his trio or with downtown pals like John Zorn or Vernon Reid, those moments of abrasive abandon have always seemed like detours from his more natural, but no less inventive and interesting, sweetness and good humor. But there's a darkness around the edges this time out that is unusual, as if he's lonely playing by himself and a little bit unnerved at the thoughts and feelings he's being forced to face on his own. His rendition of the A.P. Carter classic "Wildwood Flower" starts out with an extended Delta-blues introduction, which is a pretty unusual choice. There are other cover versions, including Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now," both of which deeply explore the emotional wreckage described by the songs' lyrics; his own compositions, such as the vaguely surfy "Variation on a Theme" and the slightly ominous "Big Bob," seem to be cut out of similar cloth. There are moments of light relief, such as the gently lovely title track and the brief banjo interlude "Fingers Snappin' and Toes Tappin'," but the overall mood here is relatively dark, though consistently beautiful. © Rick Anderson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 4, 2019 | Blue Note Records

Atmospheric isn't just an adjective for Bill Frisell, it's a concise description of the aesthetic he's followed through much of his career. While he's a masterful player in various contexts, Frisell's magic is how much he can create with so little; he's capable of creating tremendously evocative soundscapes with just an electric guitar, some reverb, and the occasional use of a looping pedal. While jazz is a fitting category for his work, if anyone in contemporary music has a style that transcends genre, it would be Frisell. 2019's HARMONY is not just the title of a Bill Frisell album but his name for the ensemble that created it -- Frisell and Luke Bergman on guitars, Hank Roberts on cello, and Petra Haden on vocals. On HARMONY, Frisell and his partners play a handful of Frisell originals (his lyricists include Elvis Costello and Julie Miller) alongside an assortment of classic American songs, a variety that encompasses the venerable show tune "On the Street Where You Live," Billy Strayhorn's jazz standard "Lush Life," and the classic cowboy song "Red River Valley." The mysterious frameworks of Frisell's guitar work are at the center of the performances, but Bergman and Roberts complement his performances with subtle grace and a sure hand, and Haden's vocals are lovely, whether she's exploring the nuances of a classic lyric or wordlessly adding her own textures to the melody. (Bergman and Roberts also contribute harmony vocals, and they interact with Haden with the same kind of care and imagination that they display with Frisell's instrumental work.) HARMONY sometimes feels so ethereal that it could blow away in a strong breeze, but there's a strength in the quiet of these sessions, and the best moments are nothing short of magic. If you're looking for music that will suit a quiet night with intelligence and style, you should certainly give HARMONY a listen. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 25, 2006 | Nonesuch

It's hard to imagine that Bill Frisell at 55 is the youngster of this group. But he is by a long shot. Not that it matters in terms of musicality; rather, it's that younger modernism and its involvement with different musical genres that make Frisell such a welcome foil for the likes of two heavyweights like Paul Motian and Ron Carter. To say that this album is all over the place is an understatement. Just look at the tunes: from the slippery little grooving blues of "Eighty-One" by Carter and his former boss Miles Davis to the ditty "You Are My Sunshine" by Jimmie Davis, Thelonious Monk's "Raise Four" and "Misterioso," and traditional tunes like "Pretty Polly" and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." These are just a few, but what they prove is everything. These three musicians sound so comfortable, it's like they've been playing together for years. There is great humor in the approach on some of these tunes, such as Carter taking a boogie break near the end of "Eighty-One," or the tight little counterpoint between Motian and Frisell on "Raise Four." The question as to whether the record swings or not is moot -- it does but in a very different and gentle manner. Those who have decried Frisell's move toward country music in the last decade or so needn't be worried; no matter how songs are played (and they are played as songs), this is fully a jazz date with plenty of improvisation and strange asides. Motian's musicality is one more element of the great edge this band has. He's always pushing, however gently, always singing on his kit. The rapport between Motian and Carter is wonderful on Lerner & Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live," and he and Frisell are nearly symbiotic -- check Frisell's "Monroe," or the Williams tune, or better yet the angles and corners on "Misterioso," where they paint themselves into such a tight corner it seems they'll never get out. With Carter's solid time, they weave a tapestry that's as rich and humorous as Monk's, and he's snapping his fingers wherever he is now. This is a solid and unexpected surprise from a brilliantly conceived collaboration. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 15, 2008 | Nonesuch

Booklet
History, Mystery is among Bill Frisell's most eclectic yet accessible projects. Produced by longtime ally Lee Townsend, this double-disc, 90-minute, 30-piece suite encompasses the full range of Frisell's musical past and his influences, obsessions, and storylike vision. It is performed by a star-studded octet that includes trumpeter Ron Miles, saxophonist Greg Tardy, and a string section featuring Eyvind Kang, Jenny Scheinman, and Hank Roberts, with bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen in the rhythm section. History, Mystery dances across entire musical landscapes: bebop/post-bop, Malian folk music, tangos, Delta blues, modern classical music, vintage soul, and rock. The source material for this recording was compiled from a multimedia collaboration with artist Jim Woodring called Mysterio Sympatico in 2002 and recorded during a tour. The rest was recorded for Stories from the Heart of the Land, a 2007 series on National Public Radio. Frisell composed most of this work, but his own "history" is revealed in his choice of covers: Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," "Jackie-Ing" by Thelonious Monk, "Sub-Conscious Lee" by Lennie Tristano, and "Baba Drame" by Malian guitar legend Boubacar Traoré. The sense of "mystery" is in just how these various sources are melded in a multi-textured tapestry of sound. Balance for this work is achieved in the strength of its arrangements, and the glue that binds them together is the string section. Its role is pivotal: it anchors the listener through its many stylistic and textural changes. The notion of "history" here is also revealed in the way songs are juxtaposed. For instance, a soul tune like "A Change Is Gonna Come" actually precedes a knotty yet swinging bop number like "Jackie-Ing." Non-American sources are cited, too. The nuevo tango-inspired "Probability Cloud" is the theme that bookends disc one. It begins as a digital guitar soundscape before an Astor Piazzolla-inspired tango comes to the fore in the strings. Traoré's droning desert blues "Baba Drame features an interlude that evokes late-19th century Spanish folk music, itself inspired by the chants and sung prayers of the Moors centuries before. Disc two engages themes, departures, and returns in numerous ways: the haunting, near-ambient "Monroe," with guitar and viola in the forefront; the spectral "Lazy Robinson" that floats between carnival music and modern classical composition with a rock backbeat (in waltz tempo); and the two-part "Answer," a strange, nightmarish, and disorienting sketch where the strings play an actual counterforce to Frisell's guitar. The music here is very adventurous and exploratory yet completely accessible. "Faces," with its traces of Gil Evans and Igor Stravinsky, contrasts wonderfully with the tough bebop in "Sub-Conscious Lee (itself furthered by Scheinman's violin referencing Stéphane Grapelli's Gypsy swing). "Waltz for Baltimore" places the grittiness of Tardy's guttural rhythm & blues honk against Frisell's elegant, modernist jazz chords; they are both made slightly surreal by Scheinman's violin, playing a minimal loop that bridges and yet displaces eras in ether. History, Mystery is an ambitious work; it's full of elliptical, riveting moments, shape-shifting colors, and multivalent textures. Frisell's inherent love of formal lyricism, expansive harmonics, and divergent musical histories reflects his tireless passion for tracing sources. In composing his own material, he also interprets and arranges his sources. On History, Mystery he achieves musical alchemy; he creates something new from familiar, exotic, and even forgotten forms, providing listeners with a magical aural experience. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 27, 2011 | Savoy

All We Are Saying is Bill Frisell's third album for Savoy in 13 months. Since August of 2010, the guitarist has released Beautiful Dreamers, Sign of Life, and now this one. In addition, he collaborated on the duet recording Lagrimas Mexicanas with Brazilian guitarist Vinicius Cantuaria on Naive Jazz, released earlier this year. All We Are Saying is a full-length offering of Frisell's interpretations of John Lennon's music. Frisell's quintet includes violinist Jenny Scheinman, pedal steel and acoustic guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Almost none of these 16 tunes are radical reinterpretations of Lennon's songs; most stick close to the original melodies even at their most adventurous. While there are obvious attempts at rock due to the root material -- "Revolution" and "Come Together" most notably -- this isn't a rock album per se, nor is it a noodling jazz record; it's much more slippery than either. Opener "Across the Universe," with its twinning of Frisell's electric guitar and Leisz's pedal steel as Scheinman's violin picks up the lyric melody and extrapolates its harmonic aspects, is indicative of the recording's M.O., offering a close examination of Lennon the composer. The interplay between the three principals is remarkable, such as on the intro to "Nowhere Man," where Scheinman's ostinato tenses up in advance of the changes, and Leisz grounds her fluidly while Frisell pulls his lower strings to wind up, allowing the track to begin then flow into more open areas without losing sight of the melody. Sometimes it doesn't work. "Hold On" is such a ghostly sketch it's hardly there at all. "Mother," with its dissonant opening guitar, is the bluesiest thing here; its much slower tempo only adds to this impression. "Beautiful Boy" dispenses with anything extraneous save for inserting a country stroll at its center; its pace is a bit quicker to boot. The album closes with "Give Peace a Chance." Frisell employs an array of effects in swirling, shimmering contrast with Leisz's swelling steel and Scheinman's droning violin. Scherr's languid bassline, and Wollesen's lack of an authoritative backbeat and slow tempo attempt psychedelia, but feel more like an opium dream. It's the only exception to the close-to-the-core feel of the the album, and it becomes something wholly other. All We Are Saying is a revealing listen to the side of Lennon that isn't examined closely -- or often -- enough. That said, as a whole, it feels a bit too laid-back, especially given its nearly 70-minute length. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 2, 2001 | Nonesuch

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Jazz - Released April 12, 2019 | ECM

Booklet
Guitar and bass duos are a rewarding subgenre of jazz—pairings like Jim Hall/Ron Carter or Ralph Towner/Gary Peacock come to mind—that’s recently been dominated by the extrasensory connection between the perennially underrated Thomas Morgan and the do-it-all guitarist Bill Frisell. Despite a title derived from the Thelonious Monk-penned standard that’s covered here, jazz is not an accurate description of Morgan and Frisell's increasingly intrepid shared vision. The closest label would be a highly idiosyncratic version of Americana. There's a sinuous take on the iconic "Red River Valley" and a straighter reading of Monk but also dashes of Billy Strayhorn ("Lush Life") and Frank Sinatra ("In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning"), resulting in a mysterious, all-encompassing flavor. As proof of their wide-ranging tastes and ability to make any music their own, a fearless, unlikely mashup of "Wildwood Flower" (made famous by the Carter Family) and the Doc Pomus classic "Save The Last Dance for Me," somehow brings out the essence of both tunes. While Frisell’s signature meandering, idea-heavy, reverbed style provides the bones throughout the nine tracks, it’s Morgan who fills out the flesh. Recorded live in the basement of New York City's iconic Village Vanguard, Epistrophy highlights the close-miked richness of both Frisell's resonant guitar tones and Morgan's soft-edged bass contours. Except for the inevitable coughs that occur during the performances and modest applause between tunes, crowd noise here is largely absent, leaving the guitar and bass to naturally entwine in a wonderfully perceptive and creative dance. © Robert Baird / Qobuz
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Jazz - Released May 13, 2002 | Nonesuch

Echoing his 1995 release, Nashville, Bill Frisell's The Willies revisits the auburn sounds of American roots music. Although he has dipped into folk music in prior efforts, these songs follow the traditional mode even more faithfully than any of his previous releases, with only minor shifts into his familiar dissonant explorations. Assisted by Danny Barnes (Bad Livers) on banjo and guitar and bassist Keith Lowe (Fiona Apple, Wayne Horvitz & Zony Mash), Frisell's quirky tonalities and sweeping soundscapes still pervade each track, but the disquieting surges found on releases like The Bill Frisell Quartet and Gone, Just Like a Train are relatively reigned in. This in no way means that The Willies sounds anything like Hot Rize or New Grass Revival -- it is most certainly a Bill Frisell album; dark and mysterious, eerily beautiful, richly textured and layered -- just sort of a kinder, gentler Bill Frisell album. Highlights include the banjo-driven Carter Family standard "Single Girl, Married Girl" and the group's stark rendition of "Sugar Baby," a song usually associated with the similarly haunting Dock Boggs. Anyone familiar with the guitarist's style will understand his choices in recording these timeworn love songs and murder ballads, and traditional folk aficionados will be intrigued to hear their old favorites in this new environment. © Zac Johnson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 4, 1998 | Nonesuch

At first glance, the combination of pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Bill Frisell as a duo might not seem all that logical, particularly if one relies on stereotypes that only fit part of their music (i.e., Hersch is an introspective player in the Bill Evans vein, while Frisell is a sound-oriented guitarist influenced by rock). In reality, both Hersch and Frisell are well-rounded, versatile players who share an adventurous spirit and a strong musical curiosity. The nature of their collaboration is a bit of a surprise; rather than playing originals specifically written for the occasion, Hersch and Frisell simply decided to perform songs that they have enjoyed for many years but have rarely had a chance to record. Few sparks fly; most of the quiet duets are quite relaxed, and although perfectly suitable as high-quality background music, this encounter is a slight disappointment. Considering the two giants involved, one would expect something fresh and original to emerge when they explore such songs as "There Is No Greater Love," "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," "I Got Rhythm" and "What Is This Thing Called Love." A bit forgettable. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Contemporary Jazz - Released February 1, 1988 | ECM

Bill Frisell's early work even in its retrospectively rawest form holds all of the values that he has evinced through his entire career. Country and eastern sounds merge with a signature sky church electric approach that is unique unto only himself. Lookout for Hope brands Frisell as a visionary, a virtuoso, and a fusioneer of many sounds that set him far apart from labelmates Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, and Terje Rypdal. While both Frisell and Rypdal give giant kudos to Jimi Hendrix, there is a sense of peace and serenity that puts soulfulness on a different plane. Cellist Hank Roberts and bassist Kermit Driscoll have much to do with giving Frisell his head, weaving similar silver sounds in and through him. Then add Joey Baron's deft, precise, and colorful drumming to put the exclamation point on Frisell's new approach to improvised music. Where the haunting, ringing, rocking, strident sound of Hendrix is resurrected and modernized during the title selection, "Hang Dog" has the Afro-Asian minimalist resonance of Steve Reich accented in 7/8 time by Frisell's banjo. Nods to Ornette Coleman's puzzle-pieced surety on the peppy head arrangement of "The Animal Race" and the twangy, witty, cartoonish take of Thelonious Monk's "Hackensack" brands Frisell a true maverick and individualist. At its best, east and west merge someplace in between during the memorably beautiful overdubbed and echoing sounds on "Lonesome," while the slight yet sincere expectation evinced on "Animal Prints" is the seamless and alluring alchemy of natural, spiritual, and ethereal. With Lookout for Hope, Bill Frisell is not so much setting trends and fashion as he is establishing a fresh sound, utterly unique from all others, and laying a foundation for many things to come. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 29, 2002 | ECM

Booklet
Bill Frisell has made 14 sideman appearances on ECM but only three records as a leader on the label. His Rarum collection spans the 1980s, highlighting his earlier years. Paul Motian figures prominently in this story, as leader, composer, and sideman; "Mandeville," the leadoff track, is from 1981's Psalm, featuring Motian and Frisell with Joe Lovano, Billy Drewes, and Ed Schuller. Two more Motian tracks follow, then Jan Garbarek's "Singsong," which finds Frisell wailing. Tracks five through 11 feature Frisell as leader and composer: First there's the title cut from his 1982 debut, In Line, a multi-tracked acoustic piece, then three selections from Rambler and three more from Lookout for Hope. The transition from the wacky, banjo-driven "Hangdog" to Kenny Wheeler's "Kind of Gentle" is jarring, but no matter. Nearly a decade separates these two pieces, and it's interesting to hear Frisell, by the mid-'90s, favoring a clean, unprocessed tone (indicative, perhaps, of his growing interest in country music). After offering a quick peek at the 1986 Paul Bley Quartet (in which Motian reappears), Frisell closes with a brilliant stroke: a piece that doesn't feature him at all. Bassist Gavin Bryars wrote "Sub Rosa," from a 1993 disc called Vita Nova, in honor of Frisell. Playing the gorgeous, quasi-classical work is an ensemble of recorder, clarinet, violin, vibraphone, piano, and bass. "I sometimes have dreams of music like this," writes Frisell in his comically self-effacing liner notes. © David R. Adler /TiVo

Artist

Bill Frisell in the magazine