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 – 11/10/09

December 16, 2009

By Josef Woodward

The Frisell collaboration, entitled Collage for a Day, opened with long-drawn, tensely voiced strings climaxing in a single chord and the guitarist’s first phrase, a down-sloping, backwater blues. For the next hour,
Frisell drew on country reels and barn-dance waltzes, ragged marches and fractured improv. Stark, resonant and laden with unresolved tension, Frisell’s piece was steeped in a sense that something important has been lost, in contrast with Ives’s polyphonic New World optimism.

Gibbs’s arrangements wove the orchestra in and round Frisell’s lead, providing majestic support, textural embellishment and melodic statement. A lone trumpet emerged from the guitar’s fuzz-box harmony; an orchestral climax dissolved into a duet between Frisell and free-spirit drummer Joey Baron, only to re-emerge as vigorous strings; a final orchestral flourish zipped over elliptic western swing; two violas delivered heartbreak melody. The richly deserved encore was a subdued string-supported ballad that ended with Frisell’s solitary bottleneck slide.