Friday, May 16, 2008

Bill Frisell - History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2008)

As ambitious and eclectic as ever, guitarist Bill Frisell's most recent release is a two CD set of live and studio songs covering Frisell's beloved Americana, along with jazz, classical and world music. The band joining him is made up of Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola, Hank Roberts on cello, Greg Tardy on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Ron Miles on cornet, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Jenny Scheinman and the other string players really shine on the shorter more atmospheric studio pieces, while the band as a whole gives a great reading to the Boubacar Toure song "Baba Drame", and Greg Tardy takes a majestic, explosive and deeply soulful solo on "Change is Gonna Come". The breakneck pace of the band's cartoon theme like version of Monk's "Jackie-ing" is excellent fun. After the uneasy calm of the studio pieces, the live cuts where the band takes off and really blows are welcome. The leader himself finally breaks out with a scalding electric guitar and drums interlude on "Struggle Part 2." Disc two features the beautiful and vaguely middle eastern melody of "Faces", and the gleefully impish version of Lee Konitz's "Sub-Conscious Lee" with another fine Tardy solo. The saxophonist shines again on "Waltz for Baltimore" with swaths of deep and bold tenor bursting out kaleidoscopically. Careful listening, especially on headphones will reveal details about how finely crafted this album is. There is quite a bit of music to absorb, but the depth and breadth of the band's vision is inspiring.

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