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Bill Frisell: Richter 858

Dan McClenaghan By

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Richter 858 is a commissioned work, setting guitarist Bill Frisell up with the job of creating music to accompany eight paintings for a book project on German painter Gerhard Richter. One of Richter's main techniques is to use a squeegee to smear paint over an aluminum surface. Frisell captures this sound—the squeak and squeal, the shrillness—perfectly in the disc's opening, a sound that gives the initial impression that one is in for one of those "daunting" listening experiences. But things gel quickly into an intriquing modern classical sound. Frisell employs an classic string quartet—violin, viola, cello, with his guitar and added electronics in place of a second violin, the same players he used on his recent Unspeakable —to achieve a remarkable sonic representation of the eight paintings, that are included with the CD cover booklet.

Let me disclose up front that I've liked very much some of the music Frisell has involved himself with—trumpeter Ron Miles' Heaven, his work on Dave Douglas's Strange Liberation for example. But many of the recordings under his own name— Ghost Town comes immediately to mind—have struck me as a bit stiff and musically micro-managed and unspontaneous. This one doesn't have that problem. Recorded live, the sound of Richter 858 feels fresh and loose; and Frisell's guitar, with the signal processing—subtle sometimes, eerie and "Twilight Zone-ish" occasionally ("858-6"); or with an Appalachian/Irish tone on "858-7"—fits with a surprisingly natural ease into the classical accompaniment. And this is not to suggest that Frisell is the front man. The set fits very much into the chamber mode, no instrument dominating.

I've noticed in Richter's paintings—especially the cover art, a close-up of a section of painting 858-3—that parallel lines, warped just slightly off the chalk-line straightness—play a large part in the visual artisty. I'm not sure that the four sets of parallel strings employed here, plucked or bowed just slightly out of parallel, played any part in the consideration for the commission of the project; but it seems logical, if only in retrospect.

With an often brooding and very classical atmosphere, along with the addition of the subtle metallic tang of Frisell's electric guitar, I find this his most compelling work, one that has set me to re-listening to his past sounds.

Track Listing: 858 1 Through 8

Personnel: Bill Frisell--guitars and electronics; Jenny Scheinman--violin; Eyvind Kang--viola; Hank roberts--cello

Title: Richter 858 | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings


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