Friday, January 31, 2003


Album: ‘The Willies’
Artist: Bill Frisell
CD 13 May, 2002
Number of Discs: 1
Label: Nonesuch 7559796522

A superficial inspection of 'The Willies' would suggest that boffin-ish guitar wunderkind Bill Frisell has finally bitten off less than he can chew. But as always with this most enigmatic of musicians, there's more here than immediately meets the ear. Bluegrass standards are transfigured by shimmering harmonics; conventional beats are traversed by languid, tricky soloing; counter-melodies hint at depth and darkness in otherwise pale, homely landscapes.

Frisell has always featured country licks in his vast palette of inflections, tones and effects. Here the homage is direct and respectful. 'The Willies' is a more developed successor to 'Nashville' (1995), and a more orthodox and manifest account of its source materials than 'Good Dog Happy Man' (1999).

Since the overall aim seems to be to allow some major bluegrass themes their own eloquence, whether you like the result will depend to a much greater degree (compared to some other Frisell albums) on how the underlying themes strike you.

Uncluttered by percussion, this trio weaves its chief protagonist's slow winding, angular, decaying, chord-riven sound in and out of the traditional banjo (Danny Barnes), bass (Keith Lowe) and pump organ (Barnes again) mix. The result is art in unexpected places - a music that grows and mutates as you allow it to sink in. Dave Holland and Elvin Jones it isn't, but what it is shows itself worthy of patience and attention.

If you are new to Frisell and want a flavour of his universe, a better starting point would be the ECM :rarum ‘Selected Recordings’ disc (2002), or even 1993’s American sound-book – Ives and Copland included – ‘Have A Little Faith’. This is yet another stage in an extraordinary musical journey.

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