Friday, August 12, 2005

Bill Frisell - East/West (Nonesuch, 2005)

Bill Frisell’s newest album finds him back in the trio format with some old companions playing live dates on both the east and west coasts. He looks back to the mellow music he made in this format on albums like Good Dog Happy Man and The Willies, with some covers thrown in as well that would not sound out of place on Frisell’s classic albums like Have a Little Faith and This Land. Although I still prefer to hear him in a larger band setting, there is something to be said for the easygoing familiarity within which the trio operates. The only drawback is that they sometimes fail to push each other to reach beyond themselves into new territory.

The West CD is made up of longer electrical jams, kicking off with one of the most interesting of the quirky covers he’s done in a while. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” has a slinky feel, hinting at the familiar melody while not giving in to it outright. “Blues For Los Angeles” cuts a tough bluesy groove over a straight percussion backdrop. “Shenandoah” slows this down a bit with a loping majestic Americana feel, although pasting some electronic loops on as a tag ending does hit at a bit of a subversive sense of humor. “Pipe Down” makes things a bit funky with some nice work from Victor Krauss and Kenny Wollesen. Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” ends disc one with a slow mellow reading of the anti-war standard. Things are pretty laid back here, but pick up toward the end, with the band sticking close to the melody throughout.

The East disc was recorded at the Village Vanguard and has a much more intimate, jazzy vibe then the west coast CD. Henry Mancici’s “The Days and Wine and Roses” takes a very jazzy turn with Frisell playing acoustic guitar and Wollensen chipping in some fine brushwork. “Ron Carter” doesn’t quite have the smoking solo that made the studio version such a jaw-dropper although the leader is able to get in some fine bluesy licks. Throughout the second disc there are short interludes of electronic guitar loops that act as something of a bridge between pieces. Overall this is another fine effort from Bill Frisell. If it isn’t quite as groundbreaking as his last couple of albums, there is a sense of joy in hearing the music performed live before an appreciative audience.

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