Music IS

1.  Pretty Stars
2.  Winslow Homer
3.  Change in the Air
4.  What Do You Want?
5.  Thankful
6.  Ron Carter
7.  Think About It
8.  In Line
9.  Rambler
10. The Pioneers
11. Monica Jane12. Miss You
13. Go Happy Lucky
14. Kentucky Derby
15. Made to Shine

16. Rambler (Alternate Version)

Released: 2018

Bill Frisell: electric & acoustic guitars, loops, bass, ukulele, music boxes

All compositions by Bill Frisell


Produced by Lee Townsend

Engineered by Tucker Martine at Flora Recording & Playback

Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, New York, NY

Released by OKeh / Sony Music Masterworks



"More than many of his undeniably milestone recordings, the exceptional Music IS deserves consideration as both a career high point and a masterpiece of solo guitar.” - All About Jazz


"There are many Bill Frisells on "Music IS," and they are all terrific.” - The Associated Press


"'Music IS' is warm and welcoming, much like the man himself, and Frisell has plenty of stories to share.” - Premiere Guitar 


"It’s an elegant solo guitar album full of his trademark looping and layering, with a strong spine of melody throughout.” - WBGO


“...Mr. Frisell and his semisweet, misty-eyed attack have modeled both experimentation and serenity in improvised music.” - The New York Times


"Consisting entirely of his compositions, it’s a deeply personal statement and a marker of artistic evolution.” - WBGO


"Few tunes sum up his style better than “Rambler,” a lullaby-like early composition…” - The New York Times


"Music IS could be seen as the convergence of all his approaches in the solo format.” - WBGO






The ridiculously prolific Bill Frisell - a guitarist known for his impressive jazz, surf, fusion, roots, Americana and folk-jazz chops—has released a slew of albums in recent years, including 2014's GUITAR IN THE SPACE AGE! and 2017's Small Town. What he hasn't done in a while, however, is release a full album of solo-guitar music. 

That, however, is about to change. Frisell has announced a new—truly solo—disc, Music IS, which will be released March 16th via OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks. It marks his first solo-guitar album since 2000's Ghost Town.

"Playing solo is always a challenge," Frisell says. "For me, music has all along been so much about playing with other people. Having a conversation. Call and response. Playing all by myself is a trip. I really have to change the way I think. 

"In preparation for this recording, I played for a week at The Stone in New York. Each night I attempted new music that I'd never played before. I was purposely trying to keep myself a little off balance. Uncomfortable. Unsure. I didn't want to fall back on things that I knew were safe. My hope was to continue this process right on into the studio. I didn't want to have things be all planned out beforehand." 

He tried to keep that light and spontaneous feeling when recording. The whole process—choosing the tunes, playing the gig, tracking in the studio—ended up feeling like an investigation into memory. There was no planned concept, but what materialized almost felt like an overview. The focus of Music IS is on the telling of musical stories from Frisell's original and inimitable perspective: some of the interpretations being naked, exposed and truly solo, while others are more orchestrated through overdubbed layering and the use of his unparalleled approach to looping. 

Recorded in August 2017 at Tucker Martine's Flora Recording and Playback studio in Portland, Oregon, and produced by Lee Townsend, all of the compositions on Music Is were written by Frisell, some of them new—"Change in the Air," "Thankful," "What Do You Want," "Miss You" and "Go Happy Lucky"—others solo adaptations of classic original compositions, such as "Ron Carter," "Pretty Stars," "Monica Jane" and "The Pioneers." "In Line" and "Rambler" are from Frisell's first two ECM albums.

"Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine are two of my longtime, closest, most trusted musical brothers," Frisell says. "We've been through thick and thin. They clear the way for me to just PLAY. When we got to the studio I brought a big pile of music and we went from there. Let one thing lead to the next. Trust the process. In the moment. We mixed as we went along. The composing, arranging, playing, recording, and mixing all became one thing." -




By Nate Chinen - February 7th, 2018

Bill Frisell is no stranger to the solitary urge. Even in an ensemble setting, his graceful, inquisitive guitar playing can feel like the projection of an interior monologue. He’s a warm and generous collaborator but also a paragon of self-containment, complete unto himself.

Music IS, due out March 16 on OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks, give Frisell an open lane for soliloquy. It’s an elegant solo guitar album full of his trademark looping and layering, with a strong spine of melody throughout. Consisting entirely of his compositions, it’s a deeply personal statement and a marker of artistic evolution. Among the standout tracks is a new take on an old tune, “Rambler.” This exclusive video from the studio documents an alternate version of that same tune.

The very first album under Frisell’s name — In Line, released 35 years ago on ECM — was an atmospheric study performed largely on solo acoustic guitar. Ghost Town, which arrived on Elektra Nonesuch in 2000, charts his wizardly command in the realm of looping and effects. Silent Comedy, a 2013 Tzadik release, is a set of experimental solo improvisations. (Frisell’s 2012 Tiny Desk Concert is also an unaccompanied affair, feauring a medley of John Lennon songs.)

Music IS could be seen as the convergence of all his approaches in the solo format. Frisell recorded the album last August at Tucker Martine’s Flora Recording and Playback studio in Portland, Oregon, with his longtime producer, Lee Townsend. 

But in some other respects, Frisell tried to push into new terrain. Just prior to recording, he held a weeklong residency at The Stone. He has said that his aim was not so much to refine his material, but rather to dislodge himself from anything too familiar or rote, and to introduce a productive tension.

Along with staples like “Rambler,” Frisell brought a handful of new compositions to the sessions. A track called “Think About It” amounts to a psychedelic interlude, shot through with loopy distortion. (It was recorded with Frisell’s amplifier placed inside an upright piano.) “Go Happy Lucky” is an unhurried country blues. “Thankful,” with its softly chiming chords and bittersweet melody, feels destined to join the circle of Frisell’s most indelible ballads.

Frisell’s new album arrives in the midst of much other activity. Bill Frisell: A Portrait, the full-length documentary film by Emma Franz, is now available in commercial formats and on demand. Frisell will appear at The Village Vanguard from March 13 to 25, leading his trio and quartet (and surely playing a little solo besides).

But before then, he’ll be on the road with bassist Thomas Morgan (as on their recent duo album, Small Town). He is also touring with Charles Lloyd & the Marvels and Ron Miles’ Circuit Rider. He’ll join Dave Douglas in “Dizzy Atmosphere,” a Dizzy Gillespie tribute at Jazz at Lincoln Center on February 23 and 24. 

Original article HERE



The New York Times 

by Giovanni Russonello

At one point in the recent documentary “Bill Frisell: A Portrait,” the esteemed downtown guitarist rakes his gaze slowly across his apartment and wonders aloud: Why do I have so many guitars? He decides it’s something of a parental dilemma; he can’t give any of them up because he understands the singular promise in each. Across more than 30 years on the New York scene, Mr. Frisell and his semisweet, misty-eyed attack have modeled both experimentation and serenity in improvised music. On “Music Is,” his solo album due next month, there’s nothing (save for a few trusty pedals) coming between the listener and his instrument. Few tunes sum up his style better than “Rambler,” a lullaby-like early composition that reappears here in the form of a six-and-a-half-minute track. The piece crops up again at the end of “Music Is,” in a shorter, alternate version, sans loops or acoustic-guitar overdubs. That track was caught on film, and came out on video on Friday.  

Original article HERE



Premiere Guitar

Made To Shine - Review and interview with Bill Frisell

by Nick Millevoi
March 27, 2018

“They’re sort of floating around out there, and we don’t even know where they’re coming from or how far they are or what’s going on.” Bill Frisell is talking about melodies and stars, but what he’s saying illustrates a lot about his sound. From the tones he conjures out of his guitar to his improvisational vocabulary, Frisell draws from ideas that seem to be floating around in the musical cosmos. At any moment, he can sound equally referential to early rock ’n’ roll, classic country, jazz of all eras, and the cutting edge of experimentalism, but he always sounds completely personal and instantly identifiable.

Frisell thrives on fitting his sound into unique musical situations, which can range from playing alongside jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd to the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh to doom-metal lords Earth. Variety seems to dictate many of the guitarist’s artistic choices, and his discography is full of a wide range of highly focused projects, from his early avant-garde-quartet releases on ECM Records to country and bluegrass-tinged projects like Nashville and The Willies to his world-music album The Intercontinentals or his recent take on classic motion picture themes, When You Wish Upon a Star.

For his newest release, Music IS, Frisell has chosen to make a return to solo guitar. He’s explored solo music throughout his recording career, starting with the four solo pieces on his debut album, 1983’s In Line. He returned to the idea on 2000’s Ghost Town, which featured layers of guitars and bass ruminating on dark Americana themes, and then took a much different approach on 2013’s Silent Comedy, freely improvising in the studio.

Music IS feels like a culmination of those previous efforts. While many of the pieces feature carefully layered guitar parts, there is an openness to Frisell's playing and choice of tone that feels live and spontaneous. Despite referring to solo playing as an “ongoing challenge,” Frisell sounds at home on the album’s 15 tracks—some of which are new compositions and many of which are new versions of tunes that he’s recorded in other formats on previous albums. “It was like seeing it as if someone else had written it, so I was almost learning it for the first time all over again, or seeing things that I never knew were there,” he told Premiere Guitar during our phone interview, explaining why the tunes on his new album sound as fresh as ever.

“I was just so terrified to sit there and try to play alone. It was like torture or something. I swore I would never do it again.”

Music IS is warm and welcoming, much like the man himself, and Frisell has plenty of stories to share. We discussed his ideas about playing solo, why it was time for another solo guitar outing, the cool things about getting older, finding guitars with a story, and more.

This is your third all-solo album and they are all such different recordings. What was your path to making these albums and why was it time for a new one?

Playing by myself has forever been this ongoing challenge. Even my first album on ECM [1983's In Line] started as a solo record, but then I wasn’t quite ready for it and Arild Andersen ended up playing bass on some of it. From when I first picked up a guitar, what I loved about it was the way I interacted with people. That was what my social life was: getting together with people and playing. I’m talking about the early ’60s. I know there’s the whole singer-songwriter, one-guy troubadour thing, but I was never that. For me it was always about being in a band. Seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show or, even before that, the Ventures and all that stuff, it was a bunch of guys getting together with their guitars and hanging out. Not just the guitar, but music in general is about this community and being together and having a conversation.

So, way, way back, it was always in my mind that I wanted to be able to play by myself. At first I was so scared to do it. I felt like, I’ve gotta try to do this. In the early ’80s, I remember the very first time I tried to do a solo gig. It was in this tiny little loft place in Boston and there had to be five people there: my wife and my friend and a couple other stragglers. I was just so terrified to sit there and try to play alone. It was like torture or something. I swore I would never do it again. But it was just this challenge. I felt like, I’m supposed to be a musician. I ought to be able to sit there and play something. So, I tried again a year later and it was still hard, but I got through it a little bit better and I kept trying to do it and finally something broke through. Now I’m at a point where my confidence is up to where I can at least get through it without having a nervous breakdown. There’s also an aspect to it that’s really great. The kind of freedom you have playing alone is amazing, too. Whatever the mood or whatever you’re thinking about, you can just go off in whatever direction you want.

TIDBIT: To prep for recording Music IS, Bill Frisell played an off-the-cuff, six-night solo stint at the Stone in Manhattan. “I just brought in a pile of music and every night I’d try to play stuff that either I hadn’t played for a long time or stuff that was brand new,” he says. It’s also my nature. I flunked speech class in school. Just to be alone and standing up in front of people and making statements … even if I know what I’m talking about, I’ve never been comfortable with that. Playing alone, it’s a similar thing, where you play an idea and it goes out there and what are you going to do next? If nothing comes back at you, it’s like there’s this space that you have to get comfortable with, and it’s just you generating all the information. It’s been this long, ongoing process of me getting more and more comfortable.

There’s been a kind of narrative through your solo work:

It’s interesting to have these markers along the way, like from the first ECM record, and then there was Ghost Town. Silent Comedy. [For Music IS] there was absolutely no thought. I didn’t prepare. I didn’t do anything. I just walked in there and “bam,” in a couple hours the whole thing was done and that was a whole other way of thinking about it. It was completely improvised. I realize I’ve made some progress in my comfort level. I played some tunes that I’d written many years ago, but I hadn’t played them in a really, really long time, so it was far out to look at my own music. There are certain parts of getting older that are cool—where you can see that you actually have learned something.

You’ve been revisiting your own tunes throughout your career—re-arranging and re-recording songs that were on earlier albums using different groups. How did you determine which songs you would revisit this time?

 I wasn’t conscious of it. The preparation was that, prior to the recording, I played six nights at the Stone. [Editor’s note: John Zorn’s venue in Manhattan.] I was trying to keep myself in this state of not being sure what I was gonna do. I didn’t play stuff that I knew was gonna work when I went into the Stone. I just brought in a pile of music and every night I’d try to play stuff that either I hadn’t played for a long time or stuff that was brand new. And when I went to the studio, I did the same thing. I didn’t wanna have it all mapped out beforehand.

I don’t remember even what we started with or what caused the decision to make the first choice, but that determined what was gonna happen next—even the guitar. I wanted to stay in that kind of spontaneous, in-the-moment state for the whole recording. However, I would decide to orchestrate a particular piece, or whether it was just naked guitar or a bunch of guitar or some loops or whatever. That all just happened right as I was doing it and then we mixed it as I was doing it, too. So, each piece was finished before I went on to the next one.

Original article HERE


All About Jazz 

by John Kelman - March 9th, 2018

The tradition of solo jazz guitar recordings is a long one, with guitarists like Johnny Smith, Al Viola, George Van Eps, Lenny Breau and Joe Pass demonstrating just how far a mere six (in some cases, seven) strings could be taken on their own as far back as the 1950s. Subsequent guitar soloists like John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner went even further by, at times, taking advantage of the recording studio's facility to overdub layers of guitar to create even broader expanses. But it's been during the past two decades or so that guitarists like Eivind Aarset and Stian Westerhus have explored extensive use of looping and other technological innovations, truly developing the orchestral potential of their instrument. 

But before those two Norwegian innovators came Bill Frisell, at this point a living guitar legend already the subject of Emma Franz's compelling (and revealing) documentary, Bill Frisell: A Portrait (now available on home video). Having begun life largely in the jazz world as a member of groups led by, amongst others, Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen, Eberhard Weber and Paul Motian, before moving more decidedly into a far-reaching and prolific solo career, Frisell's insatiable interest in all things music has led to a résumé that also includes Salif Keita, Rickie Lee Jones, Paul Simon, David Sylvian and Laurie Anderson amongst his many, many prestigious collaborators, both well-known and deserving of broader recognition. 

If ever there was an album title to reflect the infinite potential of an art form that has occupied most of Frisell's life, it's Music IS. 

Frisell's second solo guitar release of its kind (Silent Comedy (Tzadik, 2013) was an alternate approach to solo guitar, recorded in real time with no overdubs or other post-production), Music IS comes eighteen years after the similar approach of Ghost Town (Nonesuch, 2000), itself released seventeen years following his 1983 ECM Records leader debut, In Line (that album split, half and half, between occasionally overdubbed solo tracks and duets with bassist Andersen). 

Ghost Town was an eclectic blend, reflecting Frisell's broad musical tastes through the inclusion, in addition to his own compositions, of music by writers ranging from jazz guitarist John McLaughlin and Great American Songbook scribes George Gershwin and Edward Heyman, to country icons A.P. Carter and Hank Williams. But irrespective of his musical sources, it was Frisell's unique voice on a variety of guitars, and his inimitable use of looping, reverse-attack, delay, compression, overdubbing and more that made Ghost Town such an unparalleled and quietly groundbreaking release. 

Frisell returns to a similar approach on Music IS, but beyond the significant growth that might be expected, it differs from Ghost Town in other ways. It's also more than just an album title; it's a reduction of the phrase "Music is good," a simple but meaningful statement that Frisell attributes to banjo player (and collaborator on the guitarist's overlooked, 2002 bluegrass-informed The Willies) Danny Barnes. Still, with its intended emphasis, Music IS assumes an even broader meaning that reflects Frisell's career-long refusal to be pigeonholed, despite many attempts from critics and fans alike. Music isn't necessarily jazz, country, folk, roots or classical music, blues, or any of the multiplicity of genres that have been touchstones throughout Frisell's career. Music simply IS, indeed; and the guitarist's long overdue follow-up to Ghost Town reflects, in its often naked vulnerability (and, perhaps, more so than on his many albums released in the ensuing years), Frisell's startling evolution, as he enters the second half of his seventh decade on planet Earth. 

Music IS differs from Ghost Town in that its 55-minute program (not including a bonus alternate and thoroughly different take of the title track to his 1984 sophomore ECM date, Rambler, tacked onto the album's end) consists entirely of Frisell compositions, his first recording to do so since Big Sur (Savoy Jazz, 2013). Unlike that group recording, however, Music IS combines music that Frisell has, in many cases, mined often since first appearing (in the case of In Line's title track) as much as 35 years ago, alongside half a dozen compositions making their first recorded appearances here. 

Hopefully artists evolve over the course of their careers, but every now and then evolution becomes revolution, and Music IS is, indeed, revolutionary. Frisell has come a long way since his first major label appearance with Eberhard Weber, on the German bassist's Fluid Rustle (ECM, 1979), with every album reflecting some kind of development and, more importantly, musical assimilation. But Music IS represents a significant leap forward for Frisell as a guitarist, composer and conceptualist. 

Frisell's style has always been predicated on a rare ability to sustain passing notes as he (often simultaneously) moves complex voicings and linear phrases up, down and across the neck of his instrument, but rarely has he done so with such seamless sophistication. Nor has he demonstrated such an organic infusion of a variety of electronic devices, which have become more like natural extensions of (and less like add-on effects to) his guitar, itself an intrinsic extension to his conscious and subconscious musical minds. And while he's already proven his acumen at writing for groups of various sizes, he's never realized the guitar as orchestra concept as fully as he does on Music IS. 

Frisell bookends the main program with the layered and looped electric guitar opener, "Pretty Stars," and lone acoustic guitar reading of the closing "Made to Shine." Both are distillations of and extrapolations upon the more overtly countrified miniature, "Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine," from Blues Dreams (Nonesuch, 2001). Both versions demonstrate an ability to find new interpretive grist in older material that has rarely been so clear, so focused, so evocative. One, an ideal opener that sets the stage for music to come, the other a perfectly constructed program closer, together they demonstrate, with crystal clarity, Frisell's ability to extract seemingly infinite possibilities from every nook and cranny of even the simplest of songs. 

Frisell begins his reinvention of "Winslow Homer" in a fashion similar to the trio version introduced on Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy Jazz, 2010), but this time with tapped chords defining the guitarist's harmonically skewed version of a standard blues. Initially a solo electric guitar look at Wynton Marsalis' commission for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, it's how Frisell manages to imply so much with so little that makes this the definitive version. For the first two-and a-half minutes Frisell moves from Thelonious Monk-informed idiosyncrasies to Jim Hall-inspired strumming, where the acoustic sound of his instrument is as dominant as its amplified tone (sometimes, more so). But it's when, with but a minute to spare, Frisell returns to the intro's tapping that the song really takes off. Looping those tapped changes, Frisell then introduces a repeated three-note phrase, layering more and more harmonies atop it that build to a climax...and suddenly cease, with "Winslow Homer" closing as it began: with the sound of a single electric guitar. 

Never running the risk of excess, superfluous technical displays or musical gymnastics (despite being capable of all these things and more), Frisell has always been about saying all that needs be said, nothing more and nothing less, with Music IS' sixteen tracks running anywhere from less than a minute to over six. Frisell's grittily angular, jaggedly strummed and tapped "Think About It"—curiously, recorded with Frisell's amplifier placed inside an old upright piano first owned by The Who's Keith Moon, then by The Band's Richard Manuel, who played it on a number of the group's hits, and ultimately with Ian McLagan (The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones)—builds to a reverse-attacked density of chords and otherworldly sonics in just 59 seconds. Frisell's first look at "Rambler," on the other hand, lasts for more than six-and-a-half minutes, its foundation of looped electronics a strange but ultimately astute choice for the clean-toned, suggestive electric guitar part that, as he stretches and compresses the song's familiar theme, makes unexpected leaps from low to high registers, curiously constructed voicings and on-the-go harmonic reinventions. 

Never afraid to leave plenty of holes in the music, Frisell's twanging Fender (or Fender-like) guitar on "Rambler" is also like a guitar history lesson, from Wes Montgomery-informed octave passages and oblique yet somehow still melodic phrases to roots-driven, tremelo-infused chords. Like "Pretty Stars" and "Made to Shine," Music IS' two takes of "Rambler" clearly demonstrate the unfettered potential of Frisell's musical imagination. With but one guitar, one amplifier and no effects, Frisell blends surprising harmonies, perfectly situated harmonics and motif-driven improvisations on the main melody throughout the shorter, alternate version of "Rambler," only to conclude with the song's core changes simplified into a finger-picked series of simpler, folk-infused chords. 

Given the song's long history (34 years), Music IS' two very different looks at "Rambler" defy those who feel the need to categorize Frisell's career into genre-specific boxes. The simple truth is: Frisell has always been the square peg in the round hole, reverent of the heart of everything he plays, yet able to blend a variety of stylistic touchstones into a unified whole, redolent of all but determined by none. 

A simple, low register loop drives "Ron Carter," a moody Blues Dream piece driven, here, by a different bass ostinato. Frisell slowly, sparingly, builds this take, ultimately adding another simple, two-chord loop layer to create an even richer foundation for his carefully but spontaneously constructed explorations. By contrast, "The Pioneers," a poignantly pretty tune from Frisell's groove-heavy roots collaboration with Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz and Viktor Krauss on Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch, 1999), becomes a four-minute rubato tone poem for solo acoustic guitar. It may be relatively simple in theme and structure, but in Frisell's hands it once again assumes no limitations, as the guitarist moves from explicit form to more implicit lines. The wonder, the marvel of it all is that even when he's delivering linear, single-note phrases, it's impossible not to feel the foundational structure of any song he plays. 

"Monica Jane," first heard on Paul Bley's Fragments (ECM, 1986), unfolds slowly, Frisell's overdubbed electric guitar parts orbiting around each other but often intersecting in even richer harmonies as its memorable theme emerges with pointillistic care. Beyond the fashion in which he evolves this more harmonically complex chart (gradually adding bass to the picture), its closing minute is further demonstration of Frisell's tangential approach to music-making. A simple bass guitar pattern that appears to be closing the piece is looped to become a new foundation, leading to a passage of abstruse electronics that ultimately takes over and moves into even more stratospheric terrain before suddenly concluding with nothing but a simple, un-effected major chord. 

Frisell, longtime producer Lee Townsend and engineer Tucker Martine—the three, along with drummer Matt Chamberlain, responsible for two records as Floratone—recorded each track, with the trio mixing it immediately afterward. Contrasting the norm of recording an album in its entirety, followed by separate mixing sessions (sometimes a long time) later, this was one of a number of ways that Frisell, Townsend and Martine helped bolster the guitarist's relentless spontaneity. 

Playing for a week at New York's The Stone prior to the Music IS sessions, Frisell describes the process of preparing for the album in its press sheet: "Each night I attempted new music that I'd never played before. I was purposely trying to keep myself a little off balance. Uncomfortable. Unsure. I didn't want to fall back on things that I knew were safe. My hope was to continue this process right on into the studio. I didn't want to have things be all planned out beforehand." Of Townsend and Martine, who Frisell calls two of his "closest, most trusted musical brothers," Frisell characteristically gives plenty of credit: "They clear the way for me to just PLAY. When we got to the studio I brought a big pile of music and we went from there. Let one thing lead to the next." 

Amongst that pile of music was a trifecta of recent Frisell compositions that suggest how he is able to build form in new and surprising ways. "Change in the Air" retains the haunting melody that underscores this piece written for Dianne Dreyer's upcoming film of the same name, combining loops and overdubbed layers of guitars and bass. A gradually accelerating, pulsing electronic drone both introduces and concludes the brooding "What Do You Want?," another miniature where Frisell, once again, brings together loops, layered guitars and bass as he moves from ethereal consonance to the kind of abstract melodism first explored on relatively early albums like Where in the World? (Elektra Nonesuch, 1991). 

"Thankful" closes the triptych in more song-based fashion. Dedicated to his family and to the myriad of artists with whom he has collaborated, it's characteristic of this still-humble guitarist who still seems almost in awe of the lifetime of experiences that have come his way, and of those who still want to work with him. A series of descending chords (made increasingly rich as the composition develops) provide a main theme that contrasts with an alternate passage based upon a simple, three-note phrase, under which Frisell layers shifting harmonies. The piece builds sonically and dramatically from spare to dense, as Frisell layers more guitars, including one that's heavily distorted and filtered, along with bass and additional ethereal atmospherics, to shape one of Music IS' biggest-sounding tracks...even as it retains the sense of intimacy that pervades the entire recording. 

There are those who want to constrain Frisell with reductionist categorizations. There are also those who accuse Frisell of, over the years, "losing his edge." Frisell lays waste to all such claims (and more) with Music IS, an album that breaks down boundaries even as the guitarist explores what's on either side and finds new ways to assimilate it all into his still-growing musical vernacular. More than many of his undeniably milestone recordings, the exceptional Music IS deserves consideration as both a career high point and a masterpiece of solo guitar. It's also proof that some artists can still, even forty years after their major label debut and with over 250 recorded appearances, release albums destined to become modern classics.



The Wall Street Journal

by Larry Blumenfeld - March 20th, 2018

On Thursday night at Manhattan’s Village Vanguard jazz club, in the midst of a two-week run, guitarist Bill Frisell exuded authority and compassion in equal measure while leading his trio. He prompted drummer Rudy Royston to play gently here or with bombast there, and lured bassist Thomas Morgan craftily in and out of each song’s structure. Mr. Frisell, who has made 40 albums as a leader and played on more than 250, is by now a ubiquitous presence, ranging well beyond jazz’s sphere (his list of collaborations includes Elvis Costello, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the film director Wim Wenders ).

His in-demand status is due less to adaptability than to his singular sonic identity—a rounded, slightly trebly tone, surrounded by a quivery halo of overtones when needed (the latter a product of manipulating his guitar’s neck just so)—and an approach to music that is wondrously odd, relentlessly logical, frequently funny and without a gratuitous note. Listen to Mr. Frisell in enough situations and it seems as if he plays his own cryptic song through them all.

In a way, he does. Mr. Frisell’s rapport with other musicians and their music—his current work in saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s band the Marvels is one good example—can obscure two facts. He is among this country’s most distinctive composers, crafting music that blends jazz, blues, country and pop, and, like the best of those traditions, is simultaneously accessible and subversive. Also, his playing is complete without anyone else around.

Mr. Frisell’s new release, “Music Is” (Okeh/Sony Music Masterworks), out now, a solo recording of original music, offers powerful reminders. Mr. Frisell, who is 67 years old, revisits the title of his first recording as a leader, 1983’s “In Line” (which was all originals, and mostly solo-guitar); here, he slows the tempo down, drawing from the former version’s skittering background figures what now sounds like a sturdy theme, which sprouts fresh shoots of counterpoint and harmony. Unlike his 2013 solo-guitar album, “Silent Comedy,” of improvised pieces, this album focuses squarely on compositions, split between old and new. The loops, effects and overdubbing that he made good use of on another solo-guitar release, 2000’s “Ghost Town,” by now constitute a language of personalized sonic gestures. Given these, even solo, Mr. Frisell is not alone. He can sound like a chorus of strings, as on a lovely new song, “Change in the Air,” or as if his looped phrases are in conversation with whatever he strums or plucks, as on “ Ron Carter, ” an older piece.

Mr. Frisell can pen a tender ballad (“Thankful”), and wring from it both complex musical ideas and straightforward emotion. He can thrash his way through distortion and feedback without losing his melodic thread (“Think About It”). He swings playfully yet forcefully (remaking his “ Winslow Homer ”), then sounds as if relaxing around a campfire (“The Pioneers”). And it all fits a single narrative. As if to underscore this point, he opens the new CD with a sweetly upbeat electric-guitar version of an old composition, “Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine.” He works through the song once more at the album’s end, this time on acoustic, with slow-loping phrases and a few dissonant tones. In Mr. Frisell’s world, nothing resolves simply, but it all adds up to one long, satisfying song.