Fear of Karaoke quelled by Chamber Jazz

So i’m listening to the new Bill Frisell album “Guitar In The Space Age”.

I’ve always liked Bill, a great guitarist with a great self-effacing demeanour, but i’ve got a problem with this album because most of the material on it is covers.

Bill is a talented guy, I have around thirty albums by him and for the most part they are cutting edge, hairs on the back of the neck, listens.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see him live a couple of times, and on both occasions he has been mesmerising. On a particular occasion at the Band on the Wall in the mid 80s he did some things on the fretboard which were simply amazing.

So if he is capable producing such amazing new music why is he doing such bland covers? I’ll admit he plays them well, there’s nothing offensive about the overall sound, but the arrangements are a bit safe and it’s all a bit “coffee table” lite jazz.

Which is confusing as I saw Bill with the rhythm section on this album, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wolleson,  and they were incredible. It was a gig at the Royal Northern College of Music which amply demonstrated how to mix guitar electronics, downtown jazz and acoustic weirdness. The duo’s work with Sex Mob has always proved to be challenging and inventive so I am surprised by the playing on this release.

When Bill does covers and adds a touch of irony, and weirdness, his deconstruction of a Dylan tune, or the oddly off-kilter version of “When I Fall In Love” from the “Have A Little Faith” album , and his unique interpretations of Lennon’s songs on “All We Are Saying” , he demonstrates that  he can do something new and interesting with extant material. His work with Paul Motian on Broadway show tunes is also memorable. And of course jazz has a long tradition of taking older material and re-inventing it.

So why is this new album not chiming with me?

Perhaps because overall I’ve got a dreadful feeling that the nostalgia/karaoke/cabaret fiends have taken over the world of music?

So it gets played once and then filed away and i’ll go back to the other great album with Scherr and Wolleson “East West” or that excellent “Quartet” album  with Curtis Fowlkes, Eyvind Kang and Ron Miles.

Talking of Ron, and conversely, his new album “Circuit Rider”,  which also features Bill Frisell, along with great drummer Brian Blade,  is something that gets played more than once.  Ron Miles has an excellent broad tone and his interaction with Frisell and Blade is breathtaking at times.  The two leads trade lines and colours as Blade provides a bed of percussion to maintain the flow. The music moves from ambient jazz through high-life chords to chamber ensemble  angularity.  Impressively lyrical, very relaxed and, at the same time, inventive,  of the two recent releases featuring Frisell this is the one to opt for.


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