The Music of Bill Frisell
Arranged for Orchestra and Conducted by Mike Gibbs
Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Bill Frisell and Joey Baron at
The Barbican in London â€“ 11/10/09
Free spirit with a big canvas
November 12, 2009
By Mike Hobart
Frisell emphasises the organic nature of his work and the contributions of those around him. â€œI have been so fortunate with this ever-growing circle of people that I can play with, who all know my music,â€ he says. â€œYou can follow a thread through all my projects. Someone in one project will be in another. They are all related somehow.â€ And for Frisell, this is good medicine. â€œEven with the same group from night to night, I donâ€™t ever want it to really be the same.â€
This is built into Frisellâ€™s compositional method. â€œSometimes I do write out things, and this can be very specific, but somehow they start having a life of their own. Iâ€™m hoping for that. I can write something in three or four parts, and everyone will look at the same thing, but weâ€™re all free to choose.â€
Even his trademark Americana is investigative rather than documentarian. â€œI grew up in the middle of that country,â€ he explains. â€œAnd the older I get, I guess I keep looking back trying to figure out where I come from and why.â€ This, he says, feeds into the music. â€œBut I donâ€™t really think about it, I become aware of things after the fact, when someone brings it to my attention.â€
He has played with orchestras before, â€œbut usually this is what other people have writtenâ€. With long-term collaborator Mike Gibbs writing the orchestration for this event, the omens are good that Frisellâ€™s group ethic and spontaneity will transfer to a larger canvas. Gibbs, says Frisell, was â€œone of the first people to let me be myselfâ€.
Gibbs, meanwhile, calls Frisellâ€™s music â€œan ever-evolving collageâ€, with a core repertoire spread over six to eight ensembles and â€œroom for a lot of spontaneityâ€. Though he is not â€œlooking to make the orchestra improviseâ€, he is treating it as though it is one member of one of Frisellâ€™s groups; roles will be swapped and techniques shared. And to make sure proceedings donâ€™t become too pre-ordained, Gibbs is bringing in drummer Joey Baron, a long-term Frisell colleague, as a free spirit with a roaming commission. â€œJoey will have no [musical] part other than â€˜this is what Bill is doingâ€™. I needed a loose, unwritten element.â€
For Paul Hughes, the BBCSOâ€™s general manager, too many jazz and symphony collaborations are â€œtokenistic and not very effectiveâ€. But this one promises to be different. Frisellâ€™s leanness of line has been likened to the work of Miles Davis, in which case Gibbs may be to Frisell what arranger Gil Evans was to Davis â€“ and Hughes has found his guarantee of the genuine article.