• Production
  • Melody / Hooks
  • Innovation
  • Arrangement
  • Guitar Genius

Bill Frisell – Big Sur

Well, it’s better late than never. Our review that is. Bill Frisell is back on the R.S.G. front page with an appraisal of his 2013 outing to Big Sur.

Big Sur

Bill Frisell spent ten days in Big Sur, commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival, to “write”. And writing is what he has really achieved – there isn’t a single spoken word on this set of recordings, but, the musical language and landscape speaks, in its entirety of something bigger than instrumental music can often embrace – and it certainly has no Big Sur “Beat” flavour- at all – despite Frisell’s jazz leanings …more on that later…

The idiom of Frisell’s quintet here makes no recourse to any smoke or mirrors instead relying on a rich blend of many folk dialects, a little jazz, melody, emotion, metre and sheer, sublime, musical brilliance.

Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, & H.S.Thompson

Big Sur is reknowned for it’s literary associations with big drinking, “high” living names like Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, and Henry Miller. But perhaps this a an easy, lazy, narrow and cliched focus.

Kerouac’s generally regarded greatest achievement “On the Road” was written in Queens. His novel “Big Sur” built around a few soujourns to Ferlinghetti’s cabin – although Bill did read it. As for Miller his more infamous work came out of time spent in Paris. And Thompson’s Big Sur novel “The Rum Diary”, based upon experiences in Puerto Rico bounced – it was finally published in 1998.

John Steinbeck’s California Vision

Bill has quite rightfully perhaps ? ignored such over-mythologising humbug and settled instead for a flavour of the great coastal vistas themselves and an Americana that suggests & feels more aligned with the Californian vision more readily recogniseable in the works of John Steinbeck: earthy, lucid, honest, and human – the hidden dialogue between men, history and landscape revealed through the unwinding drama of narrative, and melody.

First of all Frisell has delivered a huge 19 track opus and more especially brought in orchestral strings – a viola, violin and cello together with his guitar and some very, very fine drumming.

Bill Frisell Signature Guitar

The results are quite remarkable, even though Bill’s signature guitar is still right there in the mix, the addition of three more string instruments brings a more clean cut guitar style – laying off his more usual guitar sonic effects to create a thoroughly harmonious selection of pieces that feel far more like chamber music than jazz excursion and more akin to a movement than an « album » . That being said this music is still Frisell through and through. The pacing and drama is finely tuned, the melodic interplay and balance between the instruments is outstanding.

Kirk meets Gesualdo

This record will surprise you…. from the quasi-surf sounds of “The Big One” (surely this is how it should be done?) to the estranged heart ache of “Somewhere” . “Gather Good Things” repositions Roland Kirk and Carlo Gesualdo marching in the coastline moonlight whilst pieces like “Walking Stick” burn neo-eastern silhouettes into the shadows of a barn dance barbecue. “HighWay 1″ delivers mysterious Waits-ean folk-dub, and groove heavy trip-hop style completely “au-naturelle”.

Very occasionally, there is some great flanger and a little more usual Frisell-ucidation guitar on “Hawks”.

Exceptional Production

The production is absolutely exceptional and this is an inspiring, ambitious recording that truly excells itself – the whole is truly so much greater than the sum of it’s parts.

You can buy the recording from Bill Frisell’s website right here.


Big Sur Personnel

Bill Frisell – guitar
Jenny Scheinman – violin
Eyvind Kang – viola
Hank Roberts – cello
Rudy Royston – drums
Produced by Lee Townsend