It’s almost ridiculous to review Bill Frisell’s stuff. It’s undeniable that he has one of the most unique takes on music today. While he’s called jazz, he encompasses pretty much any kind of American music you can think of. Even when he makes a record I don’t particularly enjoy, it’s always interesting. This double-CD is live, and catches Frisell in trio settings in New York and California. And it’s not only interesting, but infinitely listenable.
The West Coast disc opens with an unexpected funk treat, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Things stay close to the original, with Frisell playing bluesy and soulful. “Blues for Los Angeles” is one of those noisefests that he somehow makes interesting. There’s nasty sounds and backward guitar that bracket interesting solo after interesting solo. “Shendandoah” showcases his beautiful harmony work with an intro that’s sublime and beautiful. By the time he gets into the tune, the twang is expressive and fun. “Pipe Down” is a funky dissonant piece with some fine soloing. Check out the funk about seven minutes in; you get the feeling he’d be right at home with Parliament.
West Coast wraps with a beautiful version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a tune not normally associated with a “jazz” guitarist.
The East Coast disc has a few more standards. There’s a moody, quiet take on the Gershwin “My Man’s Gone Now.” “The Days of Wine and Roses” actually gets a light swinging feel. Frisell’s “Ron Carter” dips and darts from fine chordal solo work to a positively rock and roll section, complete with Chuck Berry double-stops. Chimey guitars take it out, and the tune becomes beautifully dissonant.
We’re also treated here to great takes on “Goodnight Irene,” “People,” “Crazy,” and “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” And, as you might expect, they don’t always match the originals. But they are all excellent.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.