When listening to Bill Frisell play, it’s easy to forget you’re hearing an electric guitar. Through touch, tone and voicings that are free of the usual six-string tropes, his instrument can sound, variously, like a pedal steel, a toy piano, a string quartet, a church bell, a plane in the distance, even a human voice.
This remarkable gift continues to serve him well on his 29th solo album, whether he’s covering Stephen Foster (“Beautiful Dreamer”), Benny Goodman (“Benny’s Bugle”) or Teddy Randazzo (“Goin’ Out of My Head”), or playing his own spooky, cinematic tunes like “Baby Cry,” “Winslow Homer” and “Better Than a Machine.” The striking originality of the arrangements Frisell creates with viola player Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston can even transform ancient Tin Pan Alley fare like “Tea for Two” or “Keep on the Sunny Side” into something startlingly fresh and modern.
Recorded at Fantasy Studios and produced by longtime collaborator Lee Townsend, this record doesn’t really sound much like jazz as much as compelling, emotionally resonant, genre-free music. Sure, it swings in places, and there’s some fiery improvisation. But after decades of trodding such a brave and singular path, maybe Frisell deserves his own genre. How about “friz”?