Bill Frisell: East/West (2005)

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Bill Frisell: East/West
Bill Frisell's new two-disc live album East/West is the guitarist's tenth Nonesuch release. While it must be stated emphatically that there's not a terrible album among those recordings—or, really, in all of Frisell's discography—a newcomer to his work might be at a loss as to where to begin. I'll go out on a limb here and start things off by stating that East/West is the perfect introduction to Frisell's work. It's a veritable Rosetta Stone of just what Frisell does: the sounds he makes, the notes he plays, the songs he chooses. It's also pretty close to perfect.

Mind you, it's the trio side of Frisell's work, showcasing each of his two working trios. Disc one, West, consists of songs cherry-picked from four nights at Yoshi's in Oakland in May, 2004; the group consists of Frisell, bassist Viktor Krauss, and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The second disc, East, is similarly culled from a December, 2003 run at the Village Vanguard in New York; Tony Scherr plays bass here instead of Krauss. Both feature Frisell and group working through a typically eclectic set of Frisell originals and covers. The trio setting gives the leader plenty of room to stretch out and play lots of guitar, and he's in astonishing form, unleashing his patented haunted-house, semi-psychedelic Americana licks, long groaning lines, and chiming harmonics—often over his just-as-trademark arpeggiated loops.

Disc one, West, skews a tad more toward rock than does East and its overall impression—mind you, this is an artificial "set constructed from various nights—is of a softly seething disquiet. This is mostly due to the disc's opener, a cover of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine that sticks very close to the song yet manages to reimbue it with all the creeping paranoia and anxiety that the ubiquity of the Marvin Gaye hit may have drained away. The group's majestic version of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall has a similar sense of desolation—or at least resolute melancholy, as Frisell milks its intentional repetitions for all they're worth; his understated, sweet solo is a high point as well.

Disc two, East, is more in the jazz vein (mind you, this is all really a genre called "Bill Frisell music ), beginning with a brief, magical "My Man's Gone Now that overtly pays homage to Bill Evans' classic version recorded at the same venue forty years earler—the guitarist even quotes some of Evans' phrases. The disc's finest moment is an epic fourteen-minute "Ron Carter, with some marvelous chordal soloing from Frisell. The rhythm section absolutely cooks here: Wollesen's cymbals and propulsive snare rolls dance around Frisell's liquid-lava lines and controlled feedback, while Scherr does the difficult job of staying out of Frisell's way (he and Krauss make their presences felt, however). Everywhere one hears Frisell's love of songs; when he begins to play the melody of "People, the audience laughs, as if he's joking.

He isn't, of course—and stripped of its Streisand-isms and done rubato, the tune's exquisite. Just like the whole album.

Track Listing: CD1 (West): I Heard It Through the Grapevine; Blues for Los Angeles; Shenandoah; Boubacar; Pipe Down; A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall. CD2 (East): My Man's Gone Now; The Days of Wine and Roses; You Can Run; Ron Carter; Interlude; Goodnight Irene; The Vanguard; People; Crazy; Tennessee Flat Top Box.

Personnel: Bill Frisell: electric and acoustic guitars, loops; Viktor Krauss: bass (CD1); Tony Scherr: bass, acoustic guitar (CD2); Kenny Wollesen: drums, percussion.

Record Label: Nonesuch Records

Style: Fringes of Jazz

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