Almost every day, Bill Frisell gets up in the morning, has some coffee, and writes music. At this point, there are piles and piles and piles of single pages of staff paper filled with his graceful script. “I don’t know where the melodies come from,” says Frisell. “I try not to judge anything and just let them be.”
Frisell’s mantra, or motto so to speak, is, “Music is Good” – a statement said to him by his dear friend and great banjo player Danny Barnes. “That is something that I can say is always true. It’s so perfect. Everything I need to know is that phrase, ‘Music is Good.’ I almost called the album that, but then I thought that might be too literal. It’s good to leave it open.”
Music IS – to be released March 16 on OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks – marks the long awaited solo album from the master of his craft...
"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.
Frisell has done so much. He’s on well over 250 records, with over 40 of those as a leader. The pieces on Music IS range from his earliest jazz records from the mid-‘80s to excerpts from recent multi-disciplinary collaborations.
Recorded in August of 2017 at Tucker Martine’s Flora Recording and Playback studio in Portland, Oregon and produced by longtime collaborator Lee Townsend, all of the compositions on Music IS were written by Frisell, some of them brand new – “Change in the Air,” “Thankful,” “What Do You Want,” “Miss You” and “Go Happy Lucky” – others being solo adaptations of now classic original compositions he had previously recorded, 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,” explains Frisell. “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.”
That philosophy is evident through the pieces of music from his long discography that are explored in such an exposed way on Music IS. With radically new versions of “In Line” – the title track from his debut album in 1982 – and “Rambler” – the title track from his sophomore release in 1984 and also recorded in 1994 with legendary drummer Ginger Baker and the late Charlie Haden – Frisell embraces the unexpected and offers new insights into his exceptional career.
His exploration of “Pretty Stars”— which opens the album and is bookended with its continuation “Made to Shine,” which completes the original title of the track “Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine” – and “Ron Carter” from 2001’s Blues Dream break new ground with considerably different form. “Winslow Homer” (from 2010’s Beautiful Dreams, originally commissioned by Wynton Marsalis for JALC), “Change in the Air” (written for the forthcoming movie of the same name by Dianne Dreyer), “The Pioneers” (a collaboration between Frisell and Jim Keltner), “Monica Jane” (one of the first tracks Paul Bley and Frisell worked on together, shortly after his daughter was born) and “Kentucky Derby” (from his collaboration with Hal Wilner and Tim Robbins for a theatrical reading and recording of Hunter S. Thomson’s The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved) are deep reflections on how far his musical journey has come and how much is left to be said.
Newly crafted originals help to make the reflection more than just that, allowing the past to influence the future: “What Do You Want?” (written with the sentiment of if we all could just listen to each other more, give each other what we need and figure it out, we would realize a lot of the time we want the same things), “Thankful” (a touching tribute to the musicians Frisell has played with, career accomplishments and his wife and daughter), “Think About It” (recorded by placing the guitar amplifier inside an old upright piano owned first by rock legend Keith Moon and then Richard Manuel who ended up recording hits for The Band on it before ending up in possession of Ian McLagan), “Miss You” (“Everyone knows what that feels like, because the person you are missing is dead or in a different place,” says Frisell), and “Go Happy Lucky” (a blues that breathes new life with the exceptionally well-recorded music making it feel like Frisell is right next to you, talking with the instrument and bending the strings over the frets in an almost embarrassingly intimate fashion) complete the reflection on a revered career that still continues to surprise and innovate.
"I knew from the beginning that I wanted to record my own compositions,” Frisell concludes. “In the past few years I've done so many projects playing other people's music (John Lennon, Guitar in the Space Age, When You Wish Upon a Star, etc.). It's wonderful…and seductive. That's how I learn. I could spend the rest of my life studying Burt Bacharach....or Charlie Parker...or Bach...or? Never ending. But, it was time to get back to my own stuff. What ended up on this album were a variety of pieces. Some brand new and some from way far back. 'In Line' and 'Rambler' are from my very first recordings on ECM. I've been plugging away playing music for more than fifty years now. I'll never figure it out. One of the amazing things about getting older is being able to revisit things that I heard or played long ago. There's always something new to discover, something to uncover. New pathways open up. If I'm really lucky I might even realize that I've learned something along the way. It's far out looking at my own music though this long lens."
Music IS. The end result is Bill Frisell at his most distilled and fully realized.
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- AVAILABLE NOW: Bill Frisell’s “Music IS” on OKeh Records // Sony Music Masterworks- Available Today on OKeh / Sony Music Masterworks: BILL FRISELL Releases Solo Album Music IS to Critical Acclaim “Few tunes sum up his style better than ‘Rambler,’ a lullaby-like early composition…” – The New York Times “There are many Bill Frisells on ‘Music IS,’ and they are all terrific.” – The Associated Press “Consisting entirely of…
- Bill Frisell | Music IS | OKeh Records | March 16 on Sony Music Masterworks- BILL FRISELL Releases First Solo Album in 18 Years, Music IS Available March 16 on OKeh / Sony Music Masterworks Almost every day, Bill Frisell gets up in the morning, has some coffee, and writes music. At this point, there are piles and piles and piles of single pages of staff paper filled with his graceful script. “I don’t know where…
with a strong spine of melody throughout.” - WBGO
statement and a marker of artistic evolution.” - WBGO
of all his approaches in the solo format.” - WBGO
a lullaby-like early composition…” - The New York Times
and they are all terrific.” - The Associated Press
for example, echoes contemporary jazz, or modern classical music,
or a 1960s Haight-Ashbury bootleg.” - The Associated Press
on "Music IS," and while the set presents many Bill Frisells,
he sounds like no one else.” - The Associated Press
lose himself in the possibilities of strings, amps,
effects and timeless melody.” - Rolling Stone
rock and Americana, Bill Frisell is a genre unto himself.” - Rolling Stone
handsome display on his first solo album since 2000, which feels intimate,
but not spare, thanks to Frisell's liberal use of loops.” - Rolling Stone
distinctive composer, crafting music that is simultaneously
accessible and subversive.” - Wall Street Journal
of a two-week run, guitarist Bill Frisell exuded authority and compassion
in equal measure while leading his trio.” - Wall Street Journal
an approach to music that is wondrously odd, relentlessly logical, frequently
funny and without a gratuitous note.” - Wall Street Journal
blends jazz, blues, country and pop, and, like the best of those traditions,
is simultaneously accessible and subversive.” - Wall Street Journal
like a chorus of strings…” - Wall Street Journal
up to one long, satisfying song.” - Wall Street Journal
builds sonic cathedrals by using looped layers and gorgeously finessed
chordal voicings…” - The Absolute Sound
but it also gives us the chance to recall why Frisell always
mattered—in jazz—as a guitar innovator.” - PopMatters
At this point in his career, Bill Frisell has become a brand unto himself.
And here, finally, his aloneness makes it all sound perfect.” - PopMatters
sounding uniquely like himself: haunted and lyrical, pastoral
and quirky at the same time.” - PopMatters
possibilities of this particular instrument.” - PopMatters
of the leading jazz guitarists of his generation…” - JazzTimes
multiple genres over the past 35 years has been enormous.” - JazzTimes
effects units that whatever he does with them sounds natural.” - JazzTimes
like a painting or a sculpture.” - All Music
sound world as guitarist Bill Frisell.” - Chicago Reader
depth and range in all its meditative glory.” - Chicago Reader
he has created has been uniformly stellar, even as he
continually dodges categorization.” - Relix
and surprising even himself with his career choices, Frisell has recorded
and performed live in so many different situations and configurations that it would take an entire issue of this magazine to even scratch the surface.” - Relix
to the paintings of Jackson Pollock.” - Relix
component of his distinctiveness.” - Arts Journal
Frisell’s use of looping as a means of creating subtle abstractions
within uncomplicated music.” - Arts Journal
so all this is to say: you won’t be disappointed.” - Something Else! Reviews
fully developed musical world, it's Frisell.” - Buffalo News
Music IS deserves consideration as both a career high point and
a masterpiece of solo guitar.” - All About Jazz
label debut and with over 250 recorded appearances, release albums
destined to become modern classics.” - All About Jazz
form that has occupied most of Frisell's life, it's Music IS. “ - All About Jazz
both surprising and songful.” - The Arts Fuse
were Jackson Pollock pouring paint on a canvas.” - The Arts Fuse
he adds the pedals, delays and loops that were his early calling card, the result
is an album of startling beautiful music.” - Straight No Chaser