Bill Frisell: The ECM Years
"There were two dates with Paul Bley [1986's Fragments and 1988's The Paul Bley Quartet]. He's another one of my heroes, who I've been listening to forevereven before ECM. He's a giant historical figure, and to play with him was another dream come true. I think it was a suggestion, from Manfred, for that band [which also included Motian and British saxophonist John Surman]. That first record [Fragments] was the very first time we ever played together, and then, during that year, we did a long European tour, went to Martinique, and played a bunch of gigs that year, and that was the last time we played. The second record [1988's The Paul Bley Quartet] was totally improvised; we never said a word, we just played. Every night, we didn't know what was going to happen. Paul's looking into the whole history; he's taking it about as far as it canyou look at Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and then Paul Bley. I see Paul Bley as setting the stage for Keith Jarrett."
Paul Motian Band, early 1980s, from left:
Bill Frisell, Billy Drewes, Paul Motian, Ed Schuller, Joe Lovano
So, it was another busy yearthat also included the start of Bass Desires, bassist Marc Johnson's supergroup with Frisell, another guitarist who'd also arrived by this time, John Scofield, and ex-Weather Report drummer Peter Erskinebut most important was Frisell's continued work as a leader. His next record, 1988's Lookout for Hope, was the guitarist's first recording with a permanent band that would continue on, in one shape or another, for nearly the next decade. "We played for maybe a year or so, and we'd been trying to get it together," Frisell recalls. "It was great. It was an important moment for me, really, when I finally felt ready to have my own bandand I had my best friends. I knew [bassist] Kermit Driscoll back from Berklee, and the record with Chet Baker [Chet Baker & Steve Houben (52e Rue Est, 1980)] was with Kermit. I met him back in 1975 with [pianist] Emil Viklicky. I also met [cellist] Hank Roberts at Berklee. So, now I'm starting to do my own thing, and it was interesting how it happened. Lee Townsend had taken over Bob Hurwitz's job at ECM, and every now and then, when Manfred was too busy, he'd let him produce a record, including mine. So that was the beginning of my relationship with Lee, and it goes on to this dayhe manages me as well. It was engineered by James Farber, who also did Rambler, and that was one of the first times I worked with him. Manfred normally had [engineer] Jan Erik [Kongshaug], but he couldn't come, so that was the first time James did something with Manfred."
Lookout for Hope represented another watershed for Frisell. In fact, while he only released three albums as a leader, each one represented a significant milestone: In Line, his first record as a leader; Rambler, his first to work with a group; and Lookout for Hope, his first with the group that he'd continue with until 1991's Where in the World? (Nonesuch, 1991). While Roberts would move on to other things (but return later as a member of Frisell's current 858 Quartet), Frisell, Driscoll and drummer Joey Baron continued touring for another four years, in groups varying from trio to sextet. Its last gig was at the 1995 Festival International de Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, a performancecomplete with the filmsof Music For The Films Of Buster Keaton: Go West and Music For The Films Of Buster Keaton: The High Sign/One Week, both released by Nonesuch the same year.
The release of Lookout for Hope, however, represented another parting of ways for Frisell and ECM. "The best way to describe it," says Frisell, "is that there were a number of issues: I was doing more and more things with more people, and I was moving a little faster than Manfred was able to record. So I became frustrated with recording the quartet; we were ready to record that first record before that [March, 1987], and we had to keep waiting. Finally he was ready, and he let Lee do it. And I was ready to do something else after that, and he started postponing again, and I was really frustrated not being able to do it. There's a moment when it feels right to do something, and I didn't want to miss those moments; with Nonesuch, I've been able to record when I've wanted, and that's been the most luxurious thing. Usually when I have a project that feels right, they just say, 'Go ahead and do it.'"