Stories » Music IS. A set of richly detailed originals that reflect Bill Frisell's boundary-breaking approach / Financial Times

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Music IS. A set of richly detailed originals that reflect Bill Frisell's boundary-breaking approach / Financial Times

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Bill Frisell has been condensing a wealth of Americana into a precise, slightly otherworldly and utterly original musical universe for more than 30 years. His latest release, a set of richly detailed originals for solo guitar, combines country strolls, angular modern jazz and love of texture into a defining statement that reflects his boundary-breaking approach.

Music IS spans the four decades of the American's recording career, beginning with "In Line", the title track of his 1983 debut on ECM, to "Change in the Air", written for a forthcoming movie of the same name. But with each piece freshly reimagined, and four new compositions in the mix, the album looks more to the future than the past.

It opens with the country melody of "Pretty Stars" twinkling gently over harmonised runs and answering bass and continues with the playfully acerbic, Monk-like blues "Winslow Homer", originally a commission for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. "Ron Carter" is a brooding standout of strums vibrating in space; "Think About It" a concise burst of gritty power-chord rock.

The sleeve lists Frisell playing electric and acoustic guitars, bass and ukulele as well as loops and music boxes for electronic effects, but not all tracks are overdubbed. "Rambler", from his second ECM release, is presented twice. The first version strides inquisitively through thickets of overdubs for more than six minutes; the second closes the album with an equally detailed reading for solo guitar that is half the length.

The new compositions present Frisell taking his concise minimalism to another level. The downward run of "Thankful" evolves into a full country band, "What Do You Want" gains an ominous wash of electronica, but the abstract pings and tipsy sense of time of "Go Happy Lucky" are conjured from solo guitar. But whether layered or unadorned, each track sounds equally fresh, a reflection, perhaps, of tunes being chosen in the moment and the album being mixed as the session went along.