Bill Frisell


BY Josiah NelsonPublished Oct 2, 2019

Legendary composer and guitarist Bill Frisell couldn't have found a more appropriate title for his official Blue Note debut; Harmony deftly stitches together many elements that have occasionally complemented Frisell's solo guitar work — backing guitars, cellos and vocals — onto a single record.
While Hank Roberts' cello and Luke Bergman's backing guitar rumble and sing exquisitely with Frisell's guitar, it's their, and lead vocalist Petra Haden's, vocals that most notably alter Frisell's spacious sound — sometimes clarifying its dimensions and at other times clouding them.
Much of Harmony seems to examine what Frisell's been exploring for over three decades: a languid melancholia described and refracted by the steely liquid tones his Telecaster fires out. On opener "Everywhere," he wheels deftly around the track, his inimitable tone both icy and soothing; Roberts' dark thumbing and Bergman's unbound guitar give the track a sense of openness, and Haden's aerial "La-la-la laaa"s are haunting and effortless, like warm sinister breaths.
Frisell's compositions are wizardly in their ability to hold two seemingly opposing feelings or ideas. On "How Many Miles?," in which Haden's voice hums and floats while Frisell needles out frozen-line notes, the tone is simultaneously weightless and disconcerted, content and resigned. Frisell's playful, stargazing riff on "Lonesome" would mock the title if it didn't swim into plaintive harmonics and mercurial notes that bespeak a deep-lined, weary sort of wisdom.
Frisell's guitar tones are effortless in creating this complex, nimble emotional timbre. Haden is almost always able to match this timbre — good examples are the withering jazz club number "On the Street Where You Live" or the mysterious, spacious "There in a Dream" — but on occasion, it's clear that doing so requires strident effort. "Red River Valley" and "Hard Times" rely upon her vocal performance the most, and while they fit Harmony's mood, their effort to evoke is felt more readily and plainly than the one's led by Frisell's guitar.
The work to weave so much together — and do it so well — speaks to Frisell's skill as a composer. His affable, warm nature seeks to connect people, sounds and ideas. On Harmony, Frisell seems to have found just that.
(Blue Note)

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