Over the 25 years he's been recording as a leader, guitarist Bill Frisell has worked in a multitude of settings, from gritty downtown to pastoral Americana, and with as many kinds of line-ups, from string trios through small groups to little-big bands. He's convinced in most contexts, and dug deep in many, always retaining his own voice, in which an abundant lyricism is partnered with earthy rhythmic vitality.
On the two-disc History, Mystery, Frisell shuffles the pack and comes up trumps againthis time leading a strings, horns and drums octet in a 90-minute suite which roves between impressionistic divertissements, most of them lasting just one or two minutes, and full-on, extended, do-what-they-say-on-the-can band work-outs, which variously take in bop, post-bop, Malian desert blues, Delta blues, 1960s soul, urban groove and low slung rock.
The many flavored, wide ranging endeavor, which could have been bitty and rambling, is woven together by Frisell's attractive string arrangements.
It's engrossing, grown-up musicbut, crucially, grown-up music in which the memory of teenage kicks lives on, in Frisell's guitar, Greg Tardy's booting, vocalized tenor saxophone, and Kenny Wollesen's post-rock backbeats. It's a delight of the first order, and an altogether worthy follow-up to the grimy and outstanding Floratone (Blue Note, 2007), whose producer, Lee Townsend, is once again at the controls.
Most of the pieces are Frisell originals, compiled from two separate suites"Mysterio Sympatico," a multi-media project with artist (and Frisell sleeve illustrator) Jim Woodring, which was premiered in 2002, and "Stories From The Heart Of The Land," broadcast on US National Public Radio in 2007. History, Mystery itself was mostly recorded live, in Washington and Boston, in 2006.
Amongst the originals, the highlights include "Probability Cloud" and "Struggle"the first an Argentinean-flecked waltz on which bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla would have fit right in, even if he did imperil the tune's sunny vibe; the second a low-end, trucking jam with wild strings, visceral rhythms and dirty grunge guitar.
There are some subtly recalibrated coversMalian guitarist Boubacar Traore's "Baba Drame," saxophonist Lee Konitz's "Sub-Conscious Lee," soul singer Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and pianist Thelonious Monk's "Jacky-ing." Tardy gets to solo infrequently, but when he does, he's immensetearing into "Sub-Consious Lee" at hyper-speed, and tearing up "A Change Is Gonna Come" like an old-time honker and screamer.
Serious, substantial stuffand a whole lot of fun too.