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Bill Frisell: History, Mystery

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For an artist rooted in sound and atmosphere, change occurs, more often than not, through Re-contextualization. Miles Davis embodied this over a career of brilliant juxtapositions and, in this way, Bill Frisell is his closest contemporary. The 58 year-old guitarist chooses collaborators carefully, employing them as foils to revolve around the swirling gravitation of his haunting, twang-inflected telecaster.

This is the only way to reconcile the newness inherent in History, Mystery. The collaborators are the same; the material is familiar, yet this is a new direction for Bill Frisell. "Imagination" opens with a solo exposition by the leader that hints at down-home blues before acquiescing to the melancholic strains a quartet of strings, led by violinist Jenny Scheinman, provides as a rebuttal. The piece is brief—1:51—but sets the mood for the mournful, old-world spirit of "Probability Cloud" and its blipping reprise, "Probability Cloud 2," a minute-long amalgam of melodic fragments and pulsing, synthesized samples.

The new sound that Frisell has achieved on History, Mystery may well be a result of his brilliant orchestrations and ability to streamline what could be an unwieldy ensemble. Trio-mates bassist Tony Sherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen form the backbone of the octet, but are used as sparingly as horns throughout the two discs. On "Out of Body," Wollesen's snare and hi-hat share the timekeeping task with Scheinman's pizzicato and trumpeter Ron Miles' rhythmic unison with Frisell. Adopting a more orchestral approach throughout the album, Frisell is able to graft together his working bands without sacrificing clarity, an approach that longtime producer Lee Townsend reflects on in the notes: "History, Mystery explores a fuller palette of orchestra colors and timbres than any project Bill has done before. Thematic elements recur throughout the album, furthering its symphonic sensibility."

A glance at History, Mystery's track list attests to recurring themes that Frisell plumbs. The guitarist's "Monroe" is explored three times: a dirge-like vehicle for cellist Hank Roberts, a sampled, almost-wistful solo guitar version and a blues-inflected reprise by Roberts over Frisell's woozy, mock-Wurlitzer effects. The performances bookend the second disc and act as an intermission between old and new Frisell compositions and the album's only swinger, Lee Konitz' "Sub-Conscious Lee," as if the listener needed a reminder that this is, after all, jazz.

Track Listing: CD1: Imagination; Probability Cloud; Probability Cloud Part 2; Out Of Body; Struggle; A Momentary Suspension Of Doubt; Onward; Baba Drame; What We Need; A Change Is Gonna Come; Jacky-ing; Show Me; Boo And Shout; Struggle Part 2; Heal; Another Momentary Suspension Of Doubt; Probability Cloud (Reprise). CD2: Monroe; Lazy Robinson; Question #1; Answer #1; Faces; Sub-Conscious Lee; Monroe Part 2; Question #2; Lazy Robinson Part 2; What We Need Part 2; Waltz For Baltimore; Answer #2; Monroe Part 3.

Personnel: Bill Frisell: guitars; Jenny Scheinman: violin; Eyvind Kang: viola; Hank Roberts: cello; Greg Tardy: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Ron Miles: cornet; Tony Scherr: bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums.

Title: History, Mystery | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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