Saturday, May 05, 2018

Bill Frisell - Music IS (Okeh / Sony Masterworks, 2018)

Bill Frisell has put out a couple of stellar solo guitar records like the extraordinary 2000 album Ghost Town, and my 2013 Album of the Year, Silent Comedy. While this album may not climb to the heights of those masterpieces, it is still quite good and well worth hearing. This album is a mix of new and old Frisell compositions, beginning with "Pretty Stars" which has a soft and gentle melody with lullaby like accessibility. He takes a simple and uncluttered approach to the theme and improvisation, with the use of effects and loops allowing him to harmonize with himself. "Winslow Homer," a tribute to the famous artist uses swathes of sharp notes and chords in an approach that is more strident and less dreamy than the prior song. The music becomes louder and more rhythmic with choppy loops bouncing off of one another. There is a darker nighttime feel to "Change is in the Air" with lonely tones and a haunting cinematic noir sensibility creating spare and quiet sustained ringing notes and loops that hang in the air mysteriously. "Thankful" is full sounding track with the loops wrapped around the improvised section, with other effects giving the music an otherworldly air. First released on his Blues Dream LP "Ron Carter," his tribute to the great bassist is this time is given a treatment that would be at home in the soundtrack to some dusty western film, perhaps a spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood. "Think About It" goes in the other direction entirely, a one minute blast of Naked City era snarling and overamped electric guitar, making for a bracing wake up call. Another remake of an earlier composition is "In Line" which is full of intensity as he discovers new threads to pull in this old song. The electronic manipulation of the sound offers a more intimate and dynamic performance that shifts mood halfway through, blooming with louder thematic material. "Rambler" is one of Frisell's most famous songs, and it is presented here as the longest track on the album, allowing him to divide up the familiar melody with electronic accents, allowing color and shade to shape the evolving improvisation. Precise patterns of beautiful melody emerge with loops and effects framing them. There are a couple of melodic fragments at work on "Monica Jane" that intertwine with well articulated notes and chords veering back into uneasy coexistence as the song develops. "Kentucky Derby" has some surprisingly grinding guitar with loops and electronics adding a futuristic tinge that makes the music glow as shards of guitar and backward looping sounds allow the proceedings to swell and expand. The album ends with a shorter alternate version of "Rambler" that has a friendly nature to it, like watching the setting sun, simply played with no accouterments, making it a fitting end to a fine album. Music IS -

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