Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

Bill Frisell: Big Sur

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Being both prolific and consistently compelling in jazz is a tough trick; it generally requires employing the same personnel and a trademark sound but convincingly reinventing the surrounding context. Guitarist Bill Frisell has managed this feat for about a decade now, and his 19-track Big Sur album, his first for Sony’s re-launched OKeh imprint, expertly balances newness with his dependable delights. So we get Frisell’s innately beautiful melodic sense as a composer and his penchant for loping midtempo waltzes and seemingly through-composed, score-like work; his understated touch and influential tone, glassy and shimmering but not slick; and an empathetic chamber ensemble comprising familiar faces: violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Rudy Royston.

The reinvention arrives with the album concept, but even that is rooted in the sort of extramusical inspirations that have driven so much of Frisell’s recent output. Written last year in Big Sur on a commission from the Monterey Jazz Festival, the music often pointedly evokes that majestic stretch of California coastline. The album’s first and best piece, “The Music of Glen Deven Ranch,” alludes to the 860-acre property where Frisell wrote it; the strings’ gracefully curt ensemble parts and the leader’s ethereal guitar present a melancholy duality that defines the rugged beauty of hulking redwoods and dramatic cliffs. Alternately, “The Big One” is instrumental surf music, with a beach-party riff that Frisell inventively passes from guitar to the strings. For most jazz artists it’d constitute a surprise, but Frisell isn’t most jazz artists.

Originally Published