Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Bill Frisell - Valentine (Blue Note, 2020)

Guitarist Bill Frisell has played with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Rouston in many situations, but until now they have never recorded together. This album rectifies that situation with a wide ranging song set that mixes originals, standards, traditionals and cover songs. The music works well, with deep sense of structure along with and occasionally exploratory approach to making music. They lead off their their best song, the West African influenced "Baba Dame" which develops a mysterious and inviting sound with percussion and unusual guitar tones and effects creating a fascinating opening. Supple bass and the wonderful rhythm that was developed by Royston create an excellent foundation, while Frisell deftly uses pedals and loops to modify his sound, but their presence does not overwhelm the overall progress of this performance, which works very well overall. The title track "Valentine" has the drums opening before Frisell joins, developing a prickly Monk like theme which evolves into a knotty trio performance. Taut bass support allows Frisell to move at will, and he rewards both Morgan and Royston with solo sections of their own which hare shaded by guitar accents. "Levees" has an enigmatic beginning, with probing guitar leads Frisell to digging a deep bluesy furrow, and the music accretes around a strong rhythmic foundation with shards of guitar and drum rolls punctuated by cymbal crashes. The leader uses a light guitar tone on "Keep Your Eyes Open" with extensive use of electronics and looping amid airy bass and drums to create a very solid trio performance, mixing a somewhat mannered approach with splashes of color. The album is concluded with a song that is often performed in times of strife "We Shall Overcome" and as the bass and percussion fold around the spokes of Frisell's guitar, thoughts cannot but be wrenched back to shots in the back, illness run amok, government ineptitude and deep despair. Regardless, this is an unfailingly pleasant album to listen to as every Frisell album on a larger label is (he really lets go when he records for John Zorn's Tzadik label.) The three musicians play immaculately, and on the above tracks, they rise above to make genuinely creative and powerful music. Valentine -

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