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The Friday Morning Listen: Bill Frisell – History, Mystery

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I'd like to say that my first Bill Frisell record was In Line, his ECM debut. That would fit in nicely with my completist/chronological streak of music acquisition. The thing is, I'm pretty sure that's not how it went at all. The first Frisell guitar to hit my ears, whether I knew it at the time or not (I'm thinkin' "not"), came from Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle. That record, along with Chick Corea & Gary Burton's mega-stellar Live in Zurich, touched off my love affair with the ECM sound.

The first Frisell record I purchased was, without a doubt, Before We Were Born. This was pre-Internet, so I'm not sure how I found out about it. I suppose it could have been an article in Downbeat or something. It's just as likely that I found it during one of my many flip-through-every-disc-in-the-bins excursions. Anyway, the music must have blown me away. The guy has a way of combining bits of traditional jazz with folk, blues and otherworldly noise to create, well…his own thing. I'm telling you, one moment everything flows along normally and then Frisell reaches up to rip a hole in the lining between the sky and the rest of the universe and all of this weird shit pours out. Like the most surreal parts of a dream, it all seems perfectly reasonable.

What happened after Before We Were Born was of course another chapter in the story of my groaning and sagging CD shelves: In Line, Rambler, Lookout For Hope, Smash & Scatteration…and on it went. Hey, some people eat too much, other listen too much. The musical gluttons out there know what I'm talking about.

This being the Internet age and all, I happened to receive my copy of History, Mystery from one of my reviewer buddies (Thanks, man!) , all wrapped in digital swaddling clothes (don't worry Bill, next trip to the store and a physical copy will be mine). I sat around for a while, letting the tunes sink into my stress-addled head.

It's not often that I'd recommend a two-disc set to the neophyte, but this just might be the place to start. The range of styles dips into nearly every segment of Frisell's thing. Even though the music came from a couple of different projects, the collection taken as a whole feels very cohesive. It's almost like a career retrospective presented with new music.

So, you can start right here…or maybe check out that Eberhard Weber album first. I'm warning you though, there appears to be no cure for this addiction.

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    You nailed it, Mark. It might just be the perfect Frisell album, if such a thing could exist. It’s everything he does in one place – the title fits, as misleading as it might be in a world absolutely overflowing with compilations that would happily bear such a title. That’s my only fear about it, that people will overlook it thinking it IS a best-of rather than new music.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    I feel pretty much the same way. It may not be Frisell’s best, but it’s up there and for the first time we have a collection that touches on many of his facets. Finally, a good entry point into the Wild World of Bill.

  • http://www.singerswapp.com Sean

    Thanks for the thoughts. It’s on its way. Can’t wait. As a stringed player, I’ve been ticking off ‘The List’ for the last decade or so. Seen John Mclaughlin, Mike Stern, Gil Shaham, Scofield, Arditti Quartet, and on and on. Nothing prepared me for what my lady and I whitnessed at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard (Seattle) last year. Frisell and his Unspeakable Orchestra took the stage and changed what I thought could be done with sound. At times, the stage seemed to be possesed by the ghost of Schoenberg, at other times Sam Cooke. Hip-hop, hard rock, Gill Evans-inspired orchestral Jazz, it was all there, but new. The experience was right up there with the rare pleasure of catching the great Mstislav Rostropovich with the Utah Symphony before he passed. Absolutely Unspeakable, if you’ll forgive me.

  • http://www.magicjunk.com/radio S.Rod

    You meant weird in a good way…right!?

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    You meant weird in a good way…right!?

    of course!