New June 18th Release
OKeh released Bill's album, Big Sur, on June 18th, 2013. The project marks his label debut as well as the first album featuring the Big Sur Quintet (which combines his 858 Quartet and Beautiful Dreamers trio).
The region known as Big Sur occupies 90 miles of spectacular central California coastline, midway between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, and extends inland to the abruptly rising Santa Lucia Mountains. Over the past century, Big Sur's rugged coastline and terrain, breathtaking vistas, and potential for communion with nature have attracted and inspired a multitude of creative types, such as Robinson Jeffers, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Ansel Adams, Charles Lloyd, John Adams, Hunter S. Thompson, The Beach Boys, Death Cab For Cutie, and others.
Listen to the music HERE
Born of a Monterey Jazz Festival commission in 2012, Bill Frisell's Big Sur features an hour of original music, 19 compositions that explicitly reference the coastal-mountain environment. Titles such as "A Good Spot," "Going to California," "A Beautiful View," "Big Sur," and "On the Lookout" evoke the remote and pastoral setting with musical blends of chamber jazz, country, classical, folk, and rock. Joined by violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts, and drummer Rudy Royston, the group premiered the music at the festival in September 2012. Six months later, the quintet recorded Big Sur at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, with longtime Frisell collaborators Lee Townsend and Adam Muñoz producing and engineering, respectively.
The commission included a residency at Glen Deven Ranch, an 860-acre property bequeathed to the Big Sur Land Trust. Glen Deven's beauty and quietude provided Frisell with both inspiration and something even more rare: time to be alone with his muse (for the first ten day stay in April 2012).
"I've been so lucky playing and working so much," reflects Frisell, "but it's become rare in the past 20 years to actually have time to reflect on things and to let them percolate or simmer. In Big Sur, I never knew what time it was, my phone didn't work, I slept whenever I wanted, and I woke up whenever I wanted. The idea was to just write music."
"It was extraordinary. You're surrounded by forest, and there's a trail that you can walk to the end of the bluff, where the land just drops off and you see the whole panorama of the Big Sur coast and the Pacific Ocean," says Frisell. "That's what I woke up to every morning. It was incredible." When he wasn't writing in his cabin, Frisell found himself meandering out the trail toward the lookout, settling onto one of the benches with his pad of music paper, and writing down whatever melodies popped into his head. "I filled up pages and pages," he says. "The music just kept coming."
Shortly before the Monterey Jazz Festival, Frisell returned to Glen Deven, joined by his band mates. "When Jenny and Eyvind and Hank and Rudy came to rehearse, they got a feel for where I'd been when I was writing. That's really when we became the Big Sur Quintet - and when the music came to life."
Essentially combining the 858 Quartet with Beautiful Dreamers (given Royston's participation), the new Quintet imparts exciting breadth and grandeur to Frisell's compositions. "I think of 858 as having a very wide dynamic range, from intimate and quiet to big and orchestral," Frisell says. "But the drums bring out the power even more. Rudy does unexpected things that inspire me, which is what everybody in this band is doing all the time."
You can hear Frisell propelled by his collaborators throughout Big Sur, notably the way his guitar grows increasingly edgy against the group's orchestral sweep and rhythmic punch on "Gather Good Things," or how it lifts and soars out of swirling ensemble updrafts on "Hawks." This is a band that can conjure a striking variety of moods and images, from nocturnal mystery ("Animals") and idyllic reverie ("We All Love Neil Young") to snaking curves of asphalt ("Highway 1") and crashing waves (the surf-rock-tinged "The Big One").
"I always feel guilty when I say I write the music," Frisell notes. "I do write these melodies on paper-and I know that's important-but there's this huge step that comes from the other musicians. For much of this album, they are playing the actual notes that I wrote down, but the way they bring their own sound to it, there's no way it can just be on the paper.
"This Quintet feels like family," says Frisell, who titled one new piece "Sing Together Like Family." It's evident in the way the musicians interact intuitively to shape the music while playing. "You hear that sort of thing when the Carter family sings together," he explains. "For them, it's in the blood. With us, it comes from putting in all those hours on trains and planes, and going through all this together. When it turns into music, it's about how we're connected. Whether the notes are written or improvised, all kinds of decisions are being made on the spur of the moment, which I just love. It keeps the music fresh. Hopefully, every time we play Big Sur, something new will happen."