Shape-shifting guitarist Bill Frisell beautifully sums up his meditative range on Music Is | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Shape-shifting guitarist Bill Frisell beautifully sums up his meditative range on Music Is 

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click to enlarge Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

Daniel Sheehan

Few musicians have built as distinctive a sound world as guitarist Bill Frisell. Though he’s ostensibly a jazz guitarist, since the early 80s he’s funneled a wide variety of influences and ideas from country, rock, noise, and various international traditions into an aesthetic as American as anything forged by Sousa, Presley, or Copland. Though specific projects such as film scores or songbooks constantly shift his focus in the short term, a macrosweep of his oeuvre shows how earthy twang, melodic wanderlust, and humid atmospheres infused with the wide-open spirit of the plains meld in his recordings. Earlier this year he released a spellbinding solo guitar album, Music Is (Okeh), a luxuriant survey of older original tunes along with some new ones. The project was sparked by an air of spontaneity that coursed through the guitarist following a weeklong solo residency at the Stone—the New York not-for-profit avant-garde and experimental space programmed by John Zorn. From piece to piece he deploys his singular mastery of looping and ethereal effects to weave together indelible melodies and haunting moods. There’s no missing the Wes Montgomery flavor in his chords on “Ron Carter,” a composition he’s recorded several times before. The biting distortion on “Think About It,” for which Frisell stuck an amplifier inside an upright piano, functions as a palate cleanser in reverse—adding funk and grime instead of dissipating it. “In Line” is a dizzyingly multilinear re-up of the title track of his 1983 ECM debut (much of which was also played solo) with ever-mutating melodic tendrils cascading in multifarious tangles. Taken as a whole the album beautifully encapsulates Frisell’s depth and range in all its meditative glory. This evening he returns to Chicago with two of his strongest collaborators, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston.   v

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