Bill Frisell East West Review

Released 2005.  

BBC Review

The latest from the prolific and unpredictable guitar master.

Martin Longley 2002

This live two-disc set was recorded on the East and West Coasts of the USA. Frisell's repertoire is dominated by standards, some less obvious than others, and peppered with his own dedications to inspirational figures. The guitarist makes a point of refusing to state these melodies obviously, circling around their outskirts and often holding back on their full delivery until the last possible moment.

Disc number one might just have the edge, riled up as it is with a tougher mood. Kenny Wollesen drums on both dates, with Viktor Krauss playing bass on this West disc, which was laid down at Yoshi's club, in Oakland, California. Frisell continues exploring the realms of digital effects boxes, though keeping his manipulations well in check, tweaking with a touch of repeat here, covertly mangling into a backwards splice there.

"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is taken at what must be called a lumbering pace, given a very minimalist treatment. Krauss grumbles out a low bassline, and keeps on walking during the slogging and sleazy "Blues For Los Angeles". Here, Frisell delivers some of his most potent soloing in recent memory, cranked up for a brutal flood. "Boubacar" is dedicated to Boubacar Traore, the guitarist with whom Frisell collaborated on The Intercontinentals album. It doesn't employ any of his Malian stylistic tics, but this is no doubt an intentional avoidance.

The second disc was recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York, with Tony Scherr on bass. This set is more relaxed, with Frisell exploring a semi-acoustic sound. Its opening numbers are "My Man's Gone Now" and "Days Of Wine And Roses", and the house style is suitably straight-ahead. In fact, rarely has Frisell stood so close to mainline jazz tradition. This makes the wonky turn of the brief "You Can Run" and the extended rolling of "Ron Carter" all the more unusual. Frisell emphasises each micrometer of the melody, ending up with a mimicking of chiming bells, accompanied by groany bass-bowing. The trio surprise again as they suddenly slam into a bone-pulverising interlude, then back to tender sluggishness, as Frisell operates the eternal twang lever on "Goodnight Irene".

The guitarist is now entering an unpredictable career phase, where each new album is embarking on a different journey, sometimes delving back to prior concerns, and sometimes looking for new adventures. This is the one where Frisell grabs his axe roughly by the neck, and subjects it to every loving-position in the book, all the while exposed by an obsessive zoom lens, his trio partners leaving him ample space to preen.

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