Free Country (2003) by Joel Harrison

Categories: 2003 and Music.

I don’t know Harrison, and coming at him in the middle of his career is probably a mistake. This is a strong, varied collection of very radical takes on American roots classics (check out that track listing, you’ll know 80% of the songs), featuring a fantastic group of guest stars too. The problem I am having with this is that Bill Frissell did all of this at least ten years earlier albeit without the singing – and has been doing it since. And though Harrison’s approach is much more obviously jazz than Frissell’s music has been in recent years, I Read More

All We Are Saying: the Music of John Lennon (2011) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2011 and Music.

As Thom Jurek says, this is an exploration of Lennon the composer, not Lennon the performer, and not Lennon’s songs as launchpads for new things. With a few notable exceptions, these performances are pretty straight up. Yes, the musicianship is of a high quality, keeping this album from a total disappointment, but these are some very capable musicians; this is the best thing they could come up with? Certainly when something is presented to me as jazz – by one of th foremost guitarists in jazz – I expect – I want – to be wowed. I feel like a Read More

The Willies (2002) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2002 and Music.

This is the most traditional-sounding Frisell album I have heard. It’s still recognizable as a Bill Frisell album, but these are pretty conventional – if not necessarily common – takes on both oft-covered and rarely-covered Americana. (There’s also the odd new Frisell composition, that he manages to fit in convincingly as something older.) It’s all well and good, I guess. I mean, it’s better than competent; the musicianship is great. The vibe is nice and relaxed. But it’s just not moving me. 6/10 Read More

Good Dog, Happy Man (1999) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 1999 and Music.

This feels like more of the same as Gone, Just like a Train. Only the band is bigger – which actually heightens the roots feel and diminishes the jazz feel – and so the palette is a little bigger too. This is perhaps the least jazz-sounding I think I have heard Frisell. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I think it would be fine if the performances were a little less low-key, a little less jammy / “We’re just having a good time!” I sort of wish they would dig into this a little more; add a little more grit Read More

Gone, Just like a Train (1998) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 1998 and Music.

This is an entertaining and pleasant record that had some really great moments, but on the whole is just what I said was it was, entertaining and pleasant. It’s certainly not going to make you re-think jazz guitar, as Frisell’s best stuff will. But it is provocatively all-over-the-place and relatively unconventional, for what we thought of as jazz guitar prior to Frisell’s early ’90s work. There is a definite roots vibe that can be found in much of Frisell’s ’90s and later work, but he does remind us that he is a jazz musician here and there, despite the non-jazz Read More

Live (1991, 1995) by Bill Frisell, Kermit Driscoll, Joey Baron

Categories: 1991 and Music.

I think this live album embodies everything I think post-modern (or post-Hendrix) guitar playing should be: Frisell is all over the place within the same songs, throwing out all sorts of different techniques, tones, effects, styles totally arbitrarily. But he is just such a good player, and the band is so locked in behind him that it doesn’t matter that he does what he wants. This is what I want to hear: a talented guitarist doing whatever he wants, seemingly on whim. And when he returns to the song, the band play as if the song – rather than Frisell Read More

Have a Little Faith (1993) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 1993 and Music.

This is one of those albums that is perhaps even more radical and important than it sounds – in fact it really doesn’t sound all that radical. Frisell and his band take on Americana, but they take on a very expansive definition of Americana: a Copland ballet – a sacred cow at that – some Ives, Dylan, Muddy Waters, Sonny Rollins, John Philip Sousa, traditional American pop, Stephen Foster!, John Hiatt…and Madonna!?!? And the rather incredible thing about it – after the incredible idea that all of this is on the same musical level – is that it sounds all Read More

All Hat Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2008) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2008 and Music.

This is a set that is pretty emblematic with the problems of so many soundtracks as standalone pieces of music. I’m sure it works well in the film – a film i will likely never see in part due to its terrible reputation – but most of the stuff here is feels fragmentary and scene-driven, even though I have never even seen those scenes. Most tracks feel like brief little jams, likely created in response to the feel of a particular scene. And there is nothing wrong with that but there’s nothing great about it either. And so this is Read More

East / West (2005) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2005 and Music.

More like West / East. For some reason Frisell seems to have switched the dates around, so that we encounter the newer, harder set first. And that’s not a bad thing. Though both sets show it off to some degree, it is the “west” set that, to my ears, is one of those great statements of the wondrous possibilities of post-free jazz. Frisell and his band make music that both questions and adds to tradition, and there is a healthy influence of minimalism as well, at least in the longer pieces. The “east” set is more subdued and more in Read More

The Intercontinentals (2003) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2003 and Music.

This is a fascinating and compelling melding of American folk music, whatever the music is that Frisell has been making that combines American folk music with certain elements of jazz, and various world musics. He and his collaborators touch on a lot of styles so it is a little hard to categorize this properly, but I think that’s likely a waste of time. The results are pretty incredible and, to my limited knowledge of Frisell, somewhat unconventional for him, given that some tracks feature vocals. This is a really solid exploration of the overlapping sounds between traditional American folk music, Read More

Ghost Town (2000) by Bill Frisell

Categories: 2000 and Music.

This is all very pleasant: a subdued and kind of idiosyncratic take on Americana with a vague jazz bent. (I can’t really decide is this actually qualifies as jazz.) I had never heard Frisell up until this point so it was news to me that he doesn’t normally sound like this (or that he usually records with others). And honestly if I had never heard another album, I might never have bothered. Because this music is just pleasant. It makes for good background music but it’s hard to get really excited about something this mellow – it’s practically sedate. 7/10 Read More