Bill Frisell - Music Is

Label: Okeh, 2018

Personnel – Bill Frisell: electric and acoustic guitars, loops, ukulele, bass, music boxes.


Venerated guitarist Bill Frisell, one of the most emblematic figures of Americana and folk-jazz, releases his long-awaited solo album, Music Is. The 16-track recording includes brand new compositions and old material irresistibly dressed with the sonic possibilities of our times. In addition to the electric and acoustic guitars, Frisell plays ukulele, electronic loops, bass, and music boxes, in a lush fusion of jazz, country, blues, and rock.

His genuine musicality is immediately foreboded on the Westerner “Pretty Stars”, a perspicacious country-folk examination cooked up with a descendent whole-step melodic interval that rings in most of the harmonic passages.

Far more adventurous is “Winslow Homer”, whose progressive posture bears audacious tones while the rhythm suggests a swinging flow that is never explicitly established. Frisell’s remarkable command of the guitar is extensible to every register and the tasteful effects aptly modernize this tune, which first appeared on the album Beautiful Dreams (Savoy Jazz) in 2010. 

Other classic pieces were added such as the relaxing “Ron Carter”, the neatly layered “Monica Jane”, the entrancingly acoustic “The Pioneers”, and two compositions from his early ECM records: “In Line”, designed with a durable ostinato, ruminative electronics, and assertive attacks within an electric setting; and a chiming rendition of “Rambler”, here suffused with loops and adaptable fresh melodies, and incorporating the ukulele into the final section. An alternate version of this tune, discarded of effects, closes out the record, with the guitarist showing an incredible capacity to articulate single-notes and chords in a polished incantation. 

The vulnerability and graciousness that dominate the record are shaken with a pair of short pieces: “Kentucky Derby”, a succinct statement whose stalwart rock chords feel ZZ Top-ish, and “Think About It”, where the guitarist combines strident bluesy chops with prolonged strapping chords.

Among the new songs, I would highlight “What Do You Want”, a nice, reflective exercise with drones underneath, and the darkly toned “Miss You”, a vehicle of uncertainty and a little sorrow.

Frisell is an inveterate drifter whose musicality leans toward introspection rather than spectacle. He knows how to sculpt a candid melody and make it the pounding heart of a song. Very personal, this is a novelty act of pure Frisellian atmospheres.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Winslow Homer ► 04 - What Do You Want ► 16 – Rambler (alternate version)