For a minimalist, Bill Frisell sure gives us a lot to chew on. His new History, Mystery, is a double-disc set that finds the innovative guitarist and composer delving into familiar territory, but with enough tangy twists to lend surprise. Frisell has been called the anti–guitar hero, and for good reason. Over the course of a four-decade career, he?s pared down his playing to often skeletal proportions, yet paradoxically, his economic approach is all the more expressive and satisfying for it. Frisell loves to solo as much as the next guitar genius, but he tends to confine expansive outings to albums featuring his own working trios and the canny small group he?s shared with drummer Paul Motian and saxophonist Joe Lovano for the past 25 years. On History, Mystery he scores his most trenchant points through suggestive melody and textural arrangements. Given a larger ensemble — here Frisell employs compact string and horn sections that include such sympathetic collaborators as violinist Jenny Scheinman, trumpeter Ron Miles, and saxophonist Greg Tardy — he can delve into his deep sonic universe, culling freely from jazz, folk, blues, and world musics. The guitarist has a knack for writing modest yet fulsomely evocative melodies that register instantly, yet as a card-carrying eclectic, Frisell is always ready to toss curve balls. Among his spaciously conceived originals he slips in Thelonious Monk?s “Jacky-ing,” Lee Konitz?s “Subconscious Lee,” and Sam Cooke?s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” as if to warn, “Label me at your own peril.” No chance of it, Bill.
About the Author
Steve Futterman writes the "Jazz and Standards" listings for The New Yorker.