Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bill Frisell - Guitar in the Space Age (Okeh Records, 2014)

It is almost as if guitarist Bill Frisell leads a double life as a musician. For John Zorn's Tzadik label he records edgy, unpredictable music as a sideman and as a leader on last years stellar Silent Comedy LP. On most of his other albums, he has taken a more pastoral approach on albums like Sig Sur and 2011's sleepy John Lennon tribute album, all we are saying. This album returns to the 1960's for it's content, using pop songs form Frisell's youth as the gimmick fodder for the tracks on this album. Accompanied by Greg Leisz on pedal steel and electric guitar, Tony Scherr on bass, acoustic guitar and Kenny Wollesen on percussion, they tackle a series of pop/rock songs from the 1960's including surf guitar on "Telstar" and the growling "Rumble" and ballads on The Beach Boys "Surfer Girl." When the group is able to walk up and sink their teeth into the material, the results are excellent. Playing The Byrds arrangement go Pete Seger's "Turn Turn Turn" they stay pretty close to the melody and length of the original, but the hook of the song retains it's grace and depth. The following track is the blues standby "Messin' With the Kid" which allows the group to get their fingernails dirty a bit with a funky rendition, featuring a stinging guitar solo. Most of the tracks are quite short, but the band's arrangement of The Kinks "Tired of Waiting For You" moves beyond this formula, opening with the aching melody of the original but then moving to explore the song in a more deep and complex manner, yielding good results. In the end it is kind of a mixed bag, the music is very well played as to be expected, and will undoubtably be embraced by people nostalgic for the era, but it is in a netherworld that is to poppy for jazz, yet too jazzy for classic rock. Perhaps this is just how Frisell planned it. Guitar in the Space Age -

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