It is difficult, at first, to pinpoint exactly what it is about Bill Frisell’s music that makes it so enchanting. Is it that he features the work of others so prominently, as committed to collaboration as to his own vision? Is it his masterful improvisatory skill, at once subtle and grand? Or is it simply his mouthwatering guitar tone, that vast, luscious texture that fans know so well?
The answer is yes, and so much more. Frisell is widely acknowledged as one of the great contemporary guitarists, Miles Davis with an Americana bent. His music might be described as avant-folk-jazz. Truthfully, any attempt to categorize Frisell’s work only trivializes it. Throughout his decades-long career, the multi-instrumentalist has covered John Lennon songs, composed film scores, worked as an in-house guitarist for ECM Records, and collaborated with numerous extraordinary musicians from across rock, jazz, blues, world, and folk to help bring alive his eclectic and atmospheric original compositions.
Frisell was born in Baltimore and came of age to a soundtrack of pop music in the ‘60s. He first tried his hand at clarinet and began exploring the guitar through blues and soul. Upon graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston, he moved to Belgium to focus on composition and promptly began a groundbreaking musical career that pushed the boundaries of both popular music and jazz. He now resides in Seattle.
Frisell resists classification in part because he has tried his hand at so many genres, from bluegrass to Brazilian. But even in his own compositions, which could conceivably be labeled “jazz,” Frisell bucks expectations around the genre. Though his melodic sensibility skews towards pop and blues, his taste is relentlessly experimental. There is something about a Frisell arrangement that is at once comforting and strange. His pieces unfurl with the slow-motion pace of a dream, meandering through gently dissonant, circuitous stories that convey import without ever suggesting anything too obvious.
On June 14, Concert Window will broadcast Frisell, along with cellist Hank Roberts, live from the New Directions Cello Festival in Ithaca, NY. Frisell and Roberts have known and worked together for the past 39 years in various ensembles. They are not promoting any particular project, and what sort of material they will play is anybody’s guess. Which is exactly as it should be. In concert, as in collaboration, Frisell is master of the open-ended question. Invariably, he answers it with both sensitivity and imagination.