June 13, 2024


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CD review: Bill Frisell – Valentine 2020: CD cover, Video, Vinyl Live Stream (Full Album)

The American guitarist’s vivid sound portraits have been nourished by the undercurrents of American life for more than three decades. They have now developed a naturally cinematic quality that draws on the sense of unease that lurks beneath the everyday.

His latest release, Valentine, finds Bill Frisell unpacking a mix of remakes, covers and previously unrecorded pieces with two musicians who are at one with his unhurried precision and quality of sound. Bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston have been touring with the guitarist for two years, and the trio’s sensitive interplay and attention to detail are now unrivalled in jazz. The album was recorded late last year, soon after a fortnight’s residency at New York’s Village Vanguard jazz club. Some songs were road-tested, but others had not been played before, giving the album a satisfying balance of the familiar and the fresh. The set begins with the Malian inflections of Boubacar Traoré’s “Baba Drame”, a leaner reading than the version on Frisell’s 2003 album The Intercontinentals. The bleak “Hour Glass” comes next, composed for Hal Willner’s production of the Allen Ginsberg poem “Kaddish”, and then the walking-bass blues “Valentine”, described by Frisell as “an affectionate wink to Thelonious Monk.” The engaging mix of the sombre, playful and joyously swinging continues throughout the set. “Levees”, written for the Bill Morrison documentary The Great Flood, resonates with Mississippi blues, “Winter Always Turns to Spring” is spacious and dreamy and the jaunty “Electricity” flows like an off-kilter country dance. The range of covers is also broad. Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” moves from supple dissonance to clearly voiced orthodoxy, “Wagon Wheels” is treated with respect and Bacharach and David’s “What the World Needs Now is Love” rendered as a plea for hope. The last of the album’s 13 tracks is “We Shall Overcome”, a regular Frisell set-closer. This dignified version proceeds at a stately waltz tempo, reverberates with clear melodies and precisely struck harmonics and is a version like no other.

He has recently recorded as an effects-filled one-man band, in an intimate duo and in the supergroup the Marvels, as well as on surf rock and movie song albums. Bill Frisell has been exploring the fringes of jazz guitar so much lately that a trio album arrives as a bold departure. Yet the familiar elements remain: nostalgia, solitude and contemplation cloaked in an atmosphere of dead-of-night tranquillity.

He is joined on bass by Thomas Morgan, his partner on those sublime Village Vanguard duets. On drums is Rudy Royston, previously heard supporting Dave Douglas and JD Allen. They display the symbiosis of the touring band. On the title blues the leader’s brittle picking is cushioned by sonorous bass and shushing cymbals.

1. Baba Drame (04:59)
2. Hour Glass (02:58)
3. Valentine (06:27)
4. Levees (06:04)
5. Winter Always Turns To Spring (05:10)
6. Keep Your Eyes Open (06:05)
7. A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing (07:23)
8. Electricity (03:19)
9. Wagon Wheels (04:14)
10. Aunt Mary (03:19)
11. What the World Needs Now Is Love (05:55)
12. Where Do We Go? (03:09)
13. We Shall Overcome (06:25)

Bill Frisell - Valentine – Blue Note Records

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