Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Bill Frisell – Unspeakable (Nonesuch, 2004)

Bill Frisell's follow up to his wonderful 2003 release, The Intercontenentals continues his experimental bent after several albums of country-ish Americana. This album is a collaboration with producer Hal Wilner that takes Frisell even farther from Americana, into funk and electronic music. There's a small string section on board as well, anchored by Frisell veteran Jenny Scheinman. The strings weave an intricate pattern on the elegiac ballad "Theme for Ginsberg" and play a large role on the album, particularly on the quieter tracks, where they are not drowned out by the electronics.

"Stringbean" is one of the more experimental pieces on the disc, with samples and processed guitar that Frisell improvises over accompanied by a funky backbeat. Horns including Briggan Krauss join in on the track "Alias," which sounds like an updated theme to a mod-60’s television show. It's a pretty heady mix with guitar, percussion, electronics and horns all jockeying for position, but the arrangement avoids a train wreck.

The experimentalism hits its peak in "Old Sugar Bear" with looped guitar and electronics giving way to an almost techno beat. The disc ends with the haunting "Goodbye Goodbye" which again mixes guitar, strings and electronics. Overall, this is an interesting album - while it's not quite as successful as last year’s masterpiece, it is great to see Frisell continue to break out of the country-jazz rut he was in and explore different facets of music.

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