THE BOSTON PHOENIX

By Jon Garelick

It would be easy to think of various Frisell projects for the Nonesuch label as concept albums-1997’s Nashville being a prime example. By that yardstick, last year’s The Intercontinentals, with its mix of African, Brazilian, Greek, and American musicians, was his “world music” album. But Frisell sees most of these projects (with the exception of Nashville, which was suggested by a record-company executive), as driven by personal relationships rather than musical concepts.

“I sort of think of it as having more to do with the people than the music,” he tells me over the phone. “Sometimes it’s about experimenting or taking a chance on trying to connect with a bunch of new people, which is kind of what The Intercontinentals was. Sometimes it’s more about trying to show some sort of long-term progress– like the Blues Dream album– with people I was playing with a lot.”

Those musical relationships even subsume Frisell’s pathbreaking playing, which, with its extended harmonic language and subtle use of electronic effects, has the kind of reach that few guitarists have equaled. Likewise, he doesn’t necessarily hire a pedal steel or dobro player based on sound alone. “Of course, I can’t say I’m not thinking about the instrument, but I guess what I think about more than that is the way the person thinks or how I feel about them–The chemistry that there is between me and that person and thinking about how the people I know might interact with each other.”

The Intercontinentals began with musicians Frisell had met at a festival in Seattle, his home town since 1989. And he has an uncanny knack of turning these encounters into unified musical statements. By contrast, the early Buena Social Club albums would never have existed if not for Ry Cooder’s advocacy, but his solos are also the worst thing about them¬–his blues slide picking comes from another world. As self-effacing as he is, Frisell never pretends he’s not making a Bill Frisell album. “The biggest challenge was to let everyone do what they do, “he says of The Intercontinentals, “ but I still wanted to rein it in and make my own music without squashing what they did naturally. I didn’t want it to be like: here’s a Greek tune and here’s an African tune. I was trying to squeeze it into my world somehow and still let them play.”

So even though all the elements are there, don’t necessarily expect a classic greasy-groove organ trio date when Frisell jams with Hammond B-3 man Yahel and drummer Blade. “I haven’t really written new music yet. But I don’t want to make it super-complicated.” He adds, “We have 10 days before we get to Boston, which is actually the last gig. We’ll have it as together as it’s going to be.”