Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet

Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet

by Bill Frisell
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Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet

After a nine-year hiatus, Bill Frisell's 858 Quartet recorded their second offering. Their elliptical debut, Richter 858, was produced by poet David Breskin (who also helmed the sessions for Nels Cline's Dirty Baby), and accompanied an exhibition by German artist Gerhard Richter. The music on Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet was loosely composed by Frisell, and took shape in group rehearsals. 858's other members include violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, and cellist Hank Roberts. Recorded at Fantasy Studios in San Francisco and produced by Lee Townsend, the 17 selections on this set feel very organic. The album opens with Americana-tinged themes in the two-part "It's a Long Story" that nod to country, folk, and even Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" in its melody. "Old Times" hints at bluegrass, blues, and ragtime, but because of the complex interplay between the four players, reaches far past them into a music that is 858's own. "Friend of Mine" is another two-part tune; that said, where a pastoral theme is suggested in part one, a more mischievous one responds in the second some eight tracks later. Elsewhere, improvised classical motifs, jazz modes, and folk and other roots musics shimmer through these compositions, sometimes simultaneously and often spontaneously. The haunted yet restrained "Painter," which clocks in at under two minutes, is a modal sketch immediately followed by an equally brief, slightly dissonant pointillistic exercise in counterpoint called "Teacher." "All the People, All the Time" returns to more accessible and resonant territory but, as gentle as it is, it's full of quiet surprises and unexpected twists. For all of its space and economical phrasing, "Village" is downright cartoon spooky, and "Suitcase in My Hand," which jaunts along in a striding, near reel, is transformed by Scheinman playing country-style fiddle, though the rhythmic signature never changes. "Sixty Four," with its pulsing time and repetitive, slightly shifting harmonic line, feels -- but not quite sounds -- like something Philip Glass might have written if he had a sense of humor, and is the only place on the record where Frisell lets somewhat ragged sonic edges into his playing. Sign of Life is a curious, quirky, and deceptively low-key affair that is musically labyrinthine and ambitious; it's full of gorgeous spaces, textures, utterly instinctive interplay, and unexpected delight.

Product Details

Release Date: 04/26/2011
Label: Savoy Jazz
UPC: 0795041781826
catalogNumber: 17818
Rank: 141737

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Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For my money (and in this case it was very well spent), Bill Frisell is a musical genius and not able to be put into any specific category, though it seems he is often referred to as a jazz player or practitioner of "Americana". This CD consists of compositions that were composed by Frisell and rehearsed over a two week period from late September 2010 to Mid October 2010 in Vermont and and then recorded at the end of October in California. Frisell is one of the few guitarists who uses effects in an artistic fashion as opposed to gratuitously for their own sake and in so doing creates marvelous and interesting sound scapes. This is Frisell's 858 Quartet which consists of Eyvind Kang on viola, Hank Roberts on cello, Jenny Scheinman on violin and of course Frisell on guitar, so in effect it's a string quartet with one of the violas being replaced by the guitar. A great combination and one that in lesser hands might sound muddy and indistinct yet not in the hands of the masterful Mr. Frisell. The music is collaborative in nature; the liner notes state "All music composed by Bill Frisell...All arrangements (on the spot and subject to change) by Bill Frisell, Eyvind Kang, Hank Roberts and Jenny Scheinman." It's well worth your listening time.