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November 2006

Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian
Nonesuch Records

In Paul Motian’s spacious, bassless trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell, the guitarist adopts a fluid role in which he easily, organically morphs from pianistic comping to playing contrapuntal lines with Lovano to occasionally filling in bass lines by detuning his low E string and deftly putting up low-end ostinatos on his repeat pedal (tweaked down an octave lower at half speed).

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Jimmy Katz

Bill Frisell

Frisell’s other key function in Motian’s ethereal trio is that of resident sonic provocateur, whereby he contributes dreamlike textures with his masterful command of swirling loops and backward effects. In this context, where time is oblique and largely implied rather than overtly stated, the music is characterized by a series of ellipses, dashes and exclamation points rather than standard units of rhythm, harmony and melody.

In this dream trio, Frisell takes a more strictly guitaristic approach as Motian resorts to more conventional timekeeping methods and Carter walks in his inimitable fashion with formidable tones and flawless time-feel. The band opens with a version of Carter’s bluesy boogaloo “Eighty-One” that is eminently more serene than the Miles Davis quintet’s version from 1965’s E.S.P. On the middle swing section, the bassist provides the forward moment and Motian keeps loose time as Frisell comps, letting chords and glistening arpeggios hang in the air and jangle. Carter offers a superb bass solo here while Motian’s drum solo is full of the kind of eccentric punctuations that mark his playing in his own trio.

A haunting, bittersweet rendition of Jimmie “The Singing Governor” Davis’ country anthem “You Are My Sunshine” has Motian setting a fragile tone with signature rubato brushwork at the outset. As the piece takes on an easy, midtempo swing feel with Motian still on brushes, Carter lays down roots as the guitarist applies a dappled touch with gorgeous chordal voicings. Frisell’s use of harmonics and tasty reharmonization here is magical, and his organic, unhurried sense of melodic development is a page out of the Sonny Rollins book on improvising.

The guitarist’s chordal voicings and pianistic comping style on the noirish “Worse and Worse” are quintessential Frisell, while his buoyant playing on a jazzy treatment of “On the Street Where You Live” (from the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady) is part Jim Hall, part Chet Atkins. Carter also turns in an outstanding bass solo against Motian’s slick, Papa Jo Jones-style hi-hat work.

Frisell’s “Monroe,” his ode to bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, is a waltz-time ditty paced by Motian’s lightly swinging touch and underscored by Carter’s huge, sparse tones shoring up the bottom end. The trio’s take on Monk’s “Misterioso” is loose, playfully interactive and full of sweet-and-sour touches from Frisell, the guitarist most capable of approximating the spirit of Monk’s jagged, unpredictable phrasing. Carter’s playing here is brilliant and marked by impeccable intonation and soulful phrasing. (Catch his quote from John Lewis’ “The Golden Striker” near the end of his solo.)

The band closes the collection on a poignant note with a forlorn reading of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” which is underscored by Motian’s Zenlike touch with brushes, Carter’s deep blue groove and marked by Frisell’s haunting reharmonizations, bluesy flourishes and heartfelt lyricism.

Originally published in November 2006
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