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Bill Frisell knows what Music IS / NWADemocrat & Gazette

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I've interviewed four American presidents. Norman Mailer. Madonna. Tom Cruise. They can work out well and make great pieces, but I hardly ever get excited about doing interviews.

Because I was talking about Bill Frisell. The occasion was a show he was scheduled to play at Little Rock's Ron Robinson Theater -- a show that wound up being canceled because of bad weather. So while I talked to Frisell and wrote the interview for our blood, dirt & angels blog (, obviously I didn't get to see and review the show.

Now Frisell, who for years has served as a sideman for figures as disparate as free jazz composer-producer-saxophonist John Zorn and alt-folkie Vic Chesnutt, has released the remarkable jazz guitar album Music IS (OKeh Records). This is his first completely solo effort since 2000's Ghost Town. It's composed of 15 Frisell compositions; the 16 tracks have two new stripped-down versions of his venerable tune "Rambler," which in its original form was the title track of Frisell's 1984 album and featured flugelhorn and tuba. On the new album, the artist plays acoustic and electric guitars, with a little bass and ukelele in the mix. Yet the most salient feature of the recording might be Frisell's subtle and sensitive use of a looper pedal to create a sonic canvas for some of his most painterly playing.

This is a fairly straightforward album, at least for a musician as eclectic and resistant to characterization as Frisell. You can pick out elements of folk, rock, country and jazz, delivered with his trademark American tonal flavor. His playfulness weaves lightly through the project, and though the tracks are multilayered and harmonically complex, they never become dense. Above everything else, a sense of joy and tenderness permeates the project -- like we're hearing Frisell pray through his instrument.