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Monday, June 6, 2011

Bill Frisell

Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz)

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At once the most prolific (two albums so far this year!) and the most elusive (what kind of music is this?) among contemporary giants of jazz guitar, Bill Frisell continues his fruitful and enigmatic output with Sign of Life.

This effort opens with pensive, melancholic acoustic string plucks and weepy, movie-of-the-week sentiment. Eventually, an artsy subtlety and restraint come to dominate the compositions for the sophomore effort from Frisell's 858 Quartet. Alongside the guitar are violin, viola and cello, bouncing between and mingling chamber, country, traditional string band and a kind of haunted, folksy pop-jazz. “Mother Daughter” playfully echoes “Eleanor Rigby,” “Teacher” might soundtrack a Dali exhibit and “Friend of Mine” would nicely theme a poignant buddy road flick, while the title track could be its own setting on a white noise machine.

Yes, over the course of 17 tracks and the bipolar experimentation with modes and moods, it can turn into a bit of a bore, but it's still a bore of immeasurable beauty. While Frisell reigns as a master of his instrument, he is even more so a servant of his whim. And as with most of his more ambient releases, here there remains a feeling that he's composing a score for an unseen film. With gobs of texture, color, humor, spaces to get lost in, and the writer's own boundless inquisitiveness, it's a movie of his mind that may just take its name from the album opener: “It's a Long Story.”


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