Stories » Bill Frisell. The most important figure in the new jazz-rock movement / Paste

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Bill Frisell. The most important figure in the new jazz-rock movement / Paste

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"I could put together the greatest rock and roll band you ever heard," Miles Davis boasted to Rolling Stone in 1969. This was during the early stages of the first jazz-rock movement, which Davis was launching with such albums as 1969's In a Silent Way and 1970's Bitches Brew. He was working from two main assumptions: one, that jazz players were much better musicians than rock musicians, and so, two, the jazzmen could make better rock music.

But a new generation of jazz players has emerged with none of the old condescension. These younger jazzers view post-Beatles pop music-including rock, R&B, hip hop and Americana-with genuine admiration and affection, not as mere gimmicks to sucker in gullible audiences and pad the wallet. These younger players will not dash off a pop theme as a perfunctory, inconvenient stop on the way to their solos; they will dig into each musical element and try to add to its density. They are creating a newer, better kind of jazz-rock.

The most important figure in this new jazz-rock movement, though, is Bill Frisell. This guitarist made a decision early in his career to forego speed for emotional color. He used fewer notes, but the notes he did use were often unexpected, and he manipulated the length, shape and timbre of each one for maximum effect. This made it easy for him to play with less virtuosic singer/songwriters; he could play along at their deliberate tempos and with their simple chord changes without getting bored, because he was always tinkering with the melody and harmony to inject more feeling into already dense memes.