Stories » Bill Frisell's 'Music Is' offers powerful reminders / Wall Street Journal

Top 10 for Sep

Bill Frisell's 'Music Is' offers powerful reminders / Wall Street Journal

Bookmark and Share

On Thursday night at Manhattan's Village Vanguard jazz club, in the midst of a two-week run, guitarist Bill Frisell exuded authority and compassion in equal measure while leading his trio. He prompted drummer Rudy Royston to play gently here or with bombast there, and lured bassist Thomas Morgan craftily in and out of each song's structure. Mr. Frisell, who has made 40 albums as a leader and played on more than 250, is by now a ubiquitous presence, ranging well beyond jazz's sphere (his list of collaborations includes Elvis Costello, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the film director Wim Wenders ).

Mr. Frisell's new release, "Music Is" (Okeh/Sony Music Masterworks), out now, a solo recording of original music, offers powerful reminders. Mr. Frisell, who is 67 years old, revisits the title of his first recording as a leader, 1983's "In Line" (which was all originals, and mostly solo-guitar); here, he slows the tempo down, drawing from the former version's skittering background figures what now sounds like a sturdy theme, which sprouts fresh shoots of counterpoint and harmony. Unlike his 2013 solo-guitar album, "Silent Comedy," of improvised pieces, this album focuses squarely on compositions, split between old and new. The loops, effects and overdubbing that he made good use of on another solo-guitar release, 2000's "Ghost Town," by now constitute a language of personalized sonic gestures. Given these, even solo, Mr. Frisell is not alone. He can sound like a chorus of strings, as on a lovely new song, "Change in the Air," or as if his looped phrases are in conversation with whatever he strums or plucks, as on " Ron Carter, " an older piece.