Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bill Frisell - Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz, 2011)

Guitarist and composer Bill Frisell is a polymath who works in many different contexts, but like fellow traveller Charlie Haden (have they ever recorded together?) the traditional vernacular music of the United States, namely country music, bluegrasss, folk and blues lie closest to his heart. This album of mostly short vignettes was recorded with his 858 Quartet, which was originally convened for an excellent album of musical art interpretation. Without the visual stimuli, the group, consisting of Bill Frisell on guitar, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola; and Hank Roberts on cello, move into the realm of atmospheric set pieces, amounting to something like an Americana chamber quartet. The music is quiet and intimate, and for the most part rather somber, possibly reflecting the mood of the American heartland in tough economic times. The music almost seems sepia toned at times as if it had been beamed in from another era. The unique string band format does allow for a lot of textural potential that the band uses, whether Frisell glides over the top of a trio of strings or interacts in real time with the full band. Jenny Scheinman continues to impress both as a soloist and an ensemble player who is comfortable in nearly any situation. To be honest, although Bill Frisell is one of my favorite musicians, I found this album a bit of a slog to get through. Slow, deeply woven textures and tempos seem to blend into each other like dreams taken out of context. The musicianship is first rate to be sure, but great patience is requited to mine the riches within. Sign Of Life -

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