Songlines

Referring to the “mellow Americana” trend of the Seattle guitarist’s last releases, producer David Breskin warned Frisell in advance: “No banjos for Richter!” Still, I’m not completely taken by this set of structured improvisations (on which Frisell is joined by Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello), a self-proclaimed musical reaction to intensive viewing of the work of Gerhard Richter. Using oil on aluminium, Richter creates abstract images – several are visible in the booklet and on the CD ROM portion of the disc – in which colours morph in all kinds of shades and gradations, blurring into a vision that’s not unlike oil floating on the surface of the sea in sunlight. One might expect some ethereal, digital-delayed tapestry mixed with clusters and twisted resolutions, but instead Kang and Scheinman mirror each other in vibrational overlays of authorized dissonance, while longstanding Frisell associate Hank Roberts provides a sober cello foundation even in the more chaotic sections. That said, a lack of lucidity seems to affect the musicians for a while in “858-6″, which is quickly followed by the post-modern gypsy minimal reel of “858-7″, easily the album’s most pleasant track. And Frisell? He remains pretty quiet throughout, his guitar a simple element of the quartet – no extreme soloism, just timbral choices that work well in the overall context, either in the initial cacophony of “858-1″, where the instruments seem to be looking for a way out of the whole project, or the closing “858-8″, which is the only moment that recalls – slightly – Frisell’s conventional, market-friendly straight obliqueness. Indeed, this move away from noisy regions to the Don’t-worry-it’s-still-your-pal-Bill final wink to the fan base is what is most annoying: the overall impression is one of an opportunity lost. There are several nice moments in there, but major break this is not.

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