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Bill Frisell: The Guitar Artistry of Bill Frisell

“The first thing that comes to mind when listening to Bill Frisell is constant surprise,” a thoughtful voice utters behind an opening Frisell montage. “He’s never predictable. He sometimes makes me think of Thelonious Monk.” These are sentiments that could have been expressed by any number of guitar greats. But since they are the words of Jim Hall, they resonate with redoubled force.

Ostensibly an instructional video for intermediate and advanced guitarists, it’s actually a delightfully quirky profile in which Frisell talks about his background, his influences and his idiosyncratic approach. Self-effacing (“This is my first video. I hope there’s something interesting.”) and disarmingly un-hip in dress and manner, the postmodern poet of electric guitar emerges as a humble yet brilliant eccentric, a cross between Gary Cooper’s bumpkin-esque “Mr. Deeds” and Bill Gates’ gee-whiz, techno nerd.

Although sections are grouped under six “chapters” (Background, Technique, Effects, Harmony, Rhythm and Arrangement), it’s a much more free-associative affair. And that’s good, because as Frisell grapples to find just the right spoken or musical phrase, what we confront is a living, breathing artist whose metier is genuinely spontaneous composition.

It’s hard to believe that it was Mickey Mouse Club emcee Jimmy who first fired Frisell’s passion for the guitar. But that’s just one of the many gems contained in this tour through the Magic Kingdom that is Frisell’s protean mind. Also included are sparkling performances by Frisell, bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Joey Baron. There’s also a useful booklet of exercises and transcriptions.

Kudos to Ann Yamamoto for low-key direction which keeps Frisell in the center of the audio as well as visual frame.

Originally Published