Bill Frisell Unspeakable Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Frisell teams up with producer Hal Willner for his most upfront album for some time...

Martin Longley 2002

At last, Bill Frisell is veering off in a new direction, heading out towards what could best be described as heavy funk for thinking truckers. He's remembering how to crank up his amplifier again, and this disc reels with a satisfying degree of distorted, mangled, steaming, twanging, squealing and grumbling licks.

Bill's key collaborator this time is producer Hal Willner, who manages to spread his influence into every nook of the recording studio. Willner's speciality has been to guide wise gatherings of like minds through skewed tributes to maverick composers. He's tackled Kurt Weill, Ennio Morricone, Charlie Mingus and Nino Rota, with the latter project being his first Frisell meeting, back in 1981.

Willner has also been reborn as a turntablist, though he's not much of a scratcher. He prefers to infiltrate loops, samples and complete chunks, delving into his extremely obscurist boxes, concentrating on highly rarefied records from the 1950s and '60s.

Frisell is using the complete Sex Mob quartet (Steven Bernstein, Briggan Krauss, Tony Scherr, Kenny Wollesen), as well as Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Don Alias (percussion)and Adam Dorn (synthesisers). The 858 Stings plush out the sound even further, featuring the familiar hands of Jenny Scheinman, Eyvind Kang and Hank Roberts.

The striding dance grooves are redolent of the 1960s and '70s, combining mean cracked leather with kitsch polyester sheen. The strings pour on soothing coolant as Frisell remembers his youth, his horn buddies headbutting hard below the belt. There's a direct danceability, but Frisell's tunes are decorated with subversive noises. If this feels too heated, there are five numbers that strip down to gentle duo interaction or have a more opened-up, string-dominated terrain. Creaky pylons and insect chirrups fill the periphery; Frisell is beginning to be unpredictable again...

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