Album: Bill Frisell, Silent Comedy
?. . . there’s a point when I start writing music, when It’s just me talking to the music. It’s all I can think about. I can’t force the music; whenever I have some strong pre-conceived idea or I’m forced into some corner, it doesn’t come out. So I try to surround myself with the person and let the music come out.?
Bill Frisell in an interview with Jazz Times, 2012
Gorgeous Formless Puddle of Tingly Sounds
Bill Frisell got his icon status through a phenomenal high-calibre recording output. True, he’s not exactly a household name except in households of musicians? musicians, in which his name is often mentioned in the context of folk, country, blues, jazz, and world music (rather than with the avant garde fare we find here), but his contribution to American music has been formidable.
He’s lent a hand over the years to a roster of artists far more famous than him, including Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, Ginger Baker, Rickie Lee Jones, Ron Sexsmith, Marianne Faithful, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright III, the Frankfurt Ballet, Bono, John Scofield, Paul Bley, and Daniel Lanois.
As a child growing up in Denver, Colorado, Frisell started out playing clarinet, but B.B. King and others on the radio sparked his interest in the guitar, leading to an intensive lifelong experimentation with any genre he could get his hands on.
Silent Comedy is a highly entertaining window display of Bill’s rich cultural life. Aside from ?The Road,? which seems to be a nod in the direction of Jack Kerouac’s influential novel and carries the appropriate whiffs of psychedelia and Eastern mysticism, I confess I can’t find a lot of connection between the tracks and their titles. Rather, the titles seem to represent tributes (something Frisell is especially fond of) to stuff he likes.
The track ?John Goldfarb, Please Come Home? is also the name of a film starring Peter Ustinov and Shirley MacLaine, a feature whose highlight is a football match between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and another team in a fictitious Arab country. The film has all the primitive stereotyping one would expect of a comedy from the ?60s, so watching it today in the light of recent world events is enlightening.
It seems as if ?Babbitt? is there to give us a clue to Frisell’s possible political sympathies; It’s also the title of a satirical novel by Sinclair Lewis, a story that pokes fun at American bourgeois conformity. ?Lake Superior? is a long, drawn-out, Hendrix-like dirge, perhaps in mourning for the extreme pollution that lake suffers.
There’s humour, too. ?Lullabye? is not the kind of piece you’d want to put your child to sleep to, unless said child loves Captain Beefheart.
If Wynton Marsalis expressed the desire to embrace ?all of jazz? in his repertoire, Bill Frisell can be said to be embracing all of music, from classical to folk, from rock to world, from high art to low. Silent Comedy is a very creative pushing of musical boundaries, but one That’s actually fun to listen to. Great music for studying, painting, and writing poetry.