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Monday, September 05, 2005

east_west page

Bill Frisell

~ East / West album ~

Despite my silliness a few posts back about cadging an opinion from elsewhere, of course I'm going to deliver my own take on the remarkable new East / West double album by Bill Frisell - if only to play fair by the alacrity with which Nonesuch sped me my review copy.

Great PR: For what it's worth, if anyone senior at the label is reading, yon Ms MC feels like a keeper: if she's quick off the mark to service someone of my lowly value, you have no  worries about how she's tending to the big guns.

How could I *not* rattle off a few words after seeing Bill live at Bumbershoot, of which fuller report separately, but suffice to say that I left it a better man and vowing all sorts of good intentions.

Disclaimer: First off, I am completely the wrong person to do Frisell. I agonize over ditching all the convincing superlatives that haven't been strummed to death by everyone else. Next, if only to sound unbiased, I cast around for temperate adjectives that aren't as over-the-top as I actually feel.

So saying, the first thing you do is find a separate jewel case for disc 2 so as not to have to keep prising the original open at the spine to enable flipping back and forth, which is the effect this album will have on you.

Ace production: As I say, it's live and therefore all the more remarkable for its impeccable production quality - which I also come to later.

Also noteworthy about Nonesuch's cleverness is the bonus this November of a special digital-only release of 11 more tracks from Bill Frisell's East/West engagements and *further* stuff available at iTunes and all paid download sites.

End of plug, and I'm happy to be a total stooge and include such. Smart operators deserve the widest applause.

Inside Bill: what must it be like to be notes and chords inside the Frisell cranium? Talk about strange but perfectly fitting chord bed-fellows? He just comes up with the perfect harmonies but they're so weird and wonderful that one wonders where they heck they comes from and how he hit on them in the first place. Musicianship and training, I guess. I keep forgetting we're all mortals down, just glimpsing genius, which is the joy of albums and concerts and all that .

Hell, I'd rent out some of my battered soul to Old Nick to hear a Frisell/Monk gig - and the rest to hear him go head-2-head on or with Frank Zappa.

How to listen: The only way I listen to a new BF album is ignore the track list and just noodle around as the maestro gets stuck in. That way, I haven't faintest idea what he's playing but have the pleasure of hearing the tune take shape, a thrill that reaches its apogee in Frisell in concert.

Track 1, disc 1 is the perfect example as Bill picks his way around, gathering key elements of the song and teasing you with red herring chords and solo runs as he slowly builds the structure until you suddenly realize that Kenny Wollesen is laying down a beat and tiens! you Heard it Through the Grapevine.

Shenandoah: Frisell owns transforming old classics that he takes at smoochy slow pace and just wrings every joy ut of the tune. He does the same with Huddie's Goodnight Irene on disc 2.

My Man's Gone Now in fact starts off as if heading into Monk's Goodbye Porkpie Hat which had me replaying it to hear precisely where the join fits. Speaking of which, listen to the exquisite opening chord work, how the engineer has fiddled the balance so perfectly.

Hard Rain A-Gonna Fall: I had a Dylan-nut pal come round so I played this and his expression was a picture as the melody dawned. Is Frisell on a Dylan kick? Can we look forward to him working thru the Dylan canon?

I don't have any of the looping equipment that BF uses but I came back starry-eyed from Bumbershoot and laid down some chording and fiddly stuff for Visions of Johanna and Where Teardrops Fall and prowled round chateau busker doing my Frisell thing, teasing a phrase here, rippling a chord there, all at funeral pace, and it really does work and makes the gradual emergence of the melody a sheer joy to perform.

People: The Streisand ballad? Sick of it. What Frisell wreathes around is pure magic.

Track 9, disck 2, Crazy: crazy. Listen and swoon.

Tennessee Flat Top Box: Just when you think this guy can do everything, including let his hair down and pick that thang. No, he can everything. Listen to the hoots and whistles from the audience and try to not join in.

Backing Bill: It must be *such* fun to be part of a Frisell ensemble and Kenny Wolleson was clearly put on this earth to add drums to the magic.

Wolleson is a drummer's drummer, a dead ringer for Woody Allen and I would love to see the expression on the audience if the two ever gigged together. There'd be frantic checking of eyeballs and cleaning of glasses.

After Bumbershoot, BF scurries off to the Big Bagel to appear with Joe Lovano (watch out for the sax intro if you've got the speakers on), so damn this job once again for keeping me from flying up there, stashing a sleeping bag behind Christina's couch and treating myself.

Thinks : if Joe Henderson and John Scofield can do Musings for Miles, maybe we can look forward to a Frisell/Lovano duet.

frisell sketchAs I say, I really have nothing authoritative to add, so let me direct you to Richard Seven's fine piece for the Seattle Times *and* let me also point you to

  • Euro Jazz
  • Bryan Aaker's impressive work of devotion and further ace links.

    Production: Unless you're in the business - which I've only skirted, and that aeons back in my mis-spent youth when I'd really hoped to be apprenticed to the canny Gus Dudgeon - you don't think about the actual sound but just assume that that's how God decreed balance and mic placing and all that pedestrian stuff. Live performances are hell to engineer and tough to mix and edit later.

    Seattle's own Tucker Martine was on rec/mix of the East coast disc but I'll keep my raves about him for my bouquets for Laura Veirs and end with a note on the remarkable Lee Townsend who's delivered a work of art here.

    Of course, it's like good writing: the imperfections don't show because they've been ironed out thanks to the skill and painstaking work behind the scenes.

    But the work here is beyond compare and I'm now spending as much time playing tracks back to savor the nuances of tone and volume control as thrilling to the guitar work.

    Some of the chord rolls just have that edge to them that you *know* the master's hand was at work, as with the delicate volume work and precise mapping of crescendo.

    Listen to the balance on side 1's killer rocker, Pipe Down, from the diamond crisp sounds up the fretboard, to the Duane Eddy rasp on the bass. In fact, this track pretty much sums up the superb production throughout.

    Think master chef with all the ingredients and now bringing that skilled hand to do justice to the full dish.

    Bravo, Mr Frisell for another gem. Bravo backroom wizard Townsend.

    Bravo, everyone.


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