Bill Frisell is a guy I've been a huge fan of for about six or seven years, but the sheer volume, originality and wide range of his music has made it impossible for me to know where to begin when writing about him. There is not a guitarist of any stripe on the scene today who possesses such a unique sound from his guitar that it's recognizable from the first note and draws from so many moods and influences. So what the hell, I'm going to start with where his discography ends at the moment, the August release from Blue Note Records, Floratone.
Floratone is a singular work in Frisell's catalog, which is to say, it's a typical Frisell record, since most of them are idiosyncratic, anyway. For this outing, the uniqueness is less about the sound than how the sound was put together. A couple of years ago, Frisell got together with fellow Seattle resident Matt Chamrberlain for some jam sessions in the studio. Chamberlain comes from the world of pop and rock, having played extensively for Tori Amos, as well as some studio work for artists as diverse as David Bowie, Fiona Apple, Bruce Hornsby and Aaron Neville.
But those jam sessions were only the first part of the music making process. The improv tapes were handed over to long-time Frisell producer Lee Townsend and another producer, Tucker Martine. Townsend and Martine picked out the recognizable motifs and shaped them into songs through extensive editing, looping and mixing. At this point the record-making process follows the pattern first established by Miles and Teo for Davis' early fusion classics, but Bill and company weren't quite done yet. Frisell and Chamberlain augmented the songs further with additional guitar and percussion parts. Lastly, Frisell brought in frequent associate Viktor Krauss to add the bass parts and Ron Miles (cornet) and Eyvind Kang (violin, viola) to provide some orchestral colorings, not too unlike 2004's Unspeakable.
The result is a record that sounds diametrically spontaneous and structured at once.
The "et. al." in the title is acknowledgment of the fact that Frisell shares leader credit with Chamberlain along with co-producers Martine and Townsend. The CD is actually credited to "Floratone," the same name they chose for the CD and the first track.