Guitar in the Space Age! marks giant steps backward and forward in time for guitarist Bill Frisell. On one hand, it’s a celebration of the improbable rise of the electric guitar-particularly the models made by Fender-during the ’50s and ’60s. But more important, it represents a terrific leap of imagination, offering fresh takes on signature guitar sounds that still resonate throughout pop culture.
Frisell owes much of his success to an inquisitive nature. After all, it’s led him through a maze of intriguing passageways in jazz, folk, country and film music. But being born at the right time and place has distinct advantages too. Here, Frisell and longtime collaborator Greg Leisz rely on collective memory to chart a path that will likely delight and surprise fellow boomers who otherwise have little interest in retro excursions. That’s largely because Frisell and Leisz, who plays guitar and pedal steel on this session, are so well matched. Whether crafting harmonies, trading lead roles, deploying effects, nimbly improvising or subtly capturing the melodic allure of “Surfer Girl” and “Tired of Waiting for You,” the guitarists clearly share a creative wavelength. Both are also adept at evoking the telling handiwork of their guitar heroes. The open-string, diving descent on Link Wray’s “Rumble,” the alternate bass string propulsion on Merle Travis’ “Cannonball Rag” and the atmospherics of “Telstar” are prime examples. Familiar riffs and refrains, though, eventually give way to colorful, cliché-free arrangements, shrewdly accented and animated by bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen.