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Bill Frisell’s Big Sur

Cover of Frisell's new CD.

Cover of Frisell’s new CD.

Review by Jeff Dayton-Johnson | KUSP

Bill Frisell’s Big Sur will resonate with KUSP listeners on many levels. The accomplished guitarist was commissioned to write the suite for the 2012 Monterey Jazz Festival; indeed, he wrote the piece at Glen Deven Ranch in Big Sur early last year. The Saturday-night premiere of “Big Sur” – then titled Music of Glen Deven Ranch was a highlight of the 2012 festival (and which listeners to KUSP’s coverage of the festival will have heard on the radio). Frisell has just this week released a recording of the Big Sur suite, joined by the same “Big Sur Quintet” with which he performed the music in Monterey: violinist Jenny Scheinman, viola player Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Rudy Royston. The complicity borne of long musical association with each of these musicians is a particular strength of the new record (available from Okeh Records).

17 minute bonus video about the project:

So too is the genre-defying sound. A jazz guitarist who can boast several decades’ achievements, Frisell has always tended to look askance at musical boundaries: he deploys his shimmering, atmospheric playing to music that draws upon country, folk, rock and Americana elements. Big Sur, meanwhile, has a lot of trappings of classical music: a commissioned composition, a string quartet (with Frisell displacing one of the violins, and with a drummer added, to be sure), a premiere performance, etc.

Frisell w/ drummer Rudy Royston - rehearsal for the Monterey Jazz Festival performance - Sept. 22, 2012. Photo: Stephen Laufer / KUSP

Frisell w/ drummer Rudy Royston – rehearsal for the Monterey Jazz Festival performance – Sept. 22, 2012. Photo: Stephen Laufer / KUSP

The record, nevertheless, follows very solidly in the line of some of Frisell’s strongest recent work, much of it made with these musicians: particularly the “Beautiful Dreamers” trio and the 858 quartet. In KUSP’s MJF coverage at the time of the premiere, I wrote, “The piece artfully combined many of the most characteristic elements of Frisell’s musical palette: the wistful, autumnal vibe; the vaguely Americana elements of the stringed instruments; the impressionistic electric washes of Frisell’s own guitar playing.” If anything, the record is brighter, Royston’s drumming more forward, than the Festival performance.

The 19 segments of Big Sur trace a line through many of Frisell’s musical concerns. “Highway 1″ has a sinuous groove (winding, like the coastal highway that cuts through KUSP’s broadcast range). Transposed to a standard jazz instrumentation, the piece would sound like post be-bop; here, the strings expressively emphasize its feline character. “Far Away,” meanwhile, lays shimmering string effects over Frisell’s idiomatic guitar playing. Destined to be a major entry in Frisell’s long discography, and a sentimental favorite of many a Central Coast music lover.

Short Big Sur ‘home video’:

Bill Frisell website
Monterey Jazz Festival website
KUSP’s On the KUSP blog – coverage from the Monterey Jazz Festival
The Big Sur Land Trust website

Jeff Dayton-Johnson writes for ‘All About Jazz’ and hosts ‘Now’s the Time’, heard on KUSP Thursday’s at midnight & anytime on the KUSP Music Player.

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