Bill Frisell to be released on the Elektra Nonesuch label. It was released in 2001 and features performances by Frisell, Dave Holland and Elvin Jones.
Ever prolific avant-Americana guitarist Bill Frisell continues his Nonesuch odyssey with this trio that includes two jazz heavyweights: bassist Dave Holland (former Miles Davis band member and current ECM recording artist) and drum legend Elvin Jones (one-quarter of the classic John Coltrane Quartet of the '60s and still an indefatigable rhythmist). Frisell leads the threesome through a book of his own highly individual, atmospherically compelling tunes, including such recent favorites as "Strange Meeting" and "Blues Dream"; the trio also essays two vintage numbers that do a good job of bookending Frisell's own brand of rootsy lyricism - Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and Stephen Foster's "Hard Times." Hardly obvious candidates as Frisell collaborators, Holland and Jones warm well to the folk-inflected material, complementing the guitarist's offbeat charm and unerring taste with their muscular authority. Frisell fans will rejoice once again, and newcomers might find this an ideal introduction.
Bill Frisell has teamed up with two of the most revered figures in contemporary jazz, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Elvin Jones, for the first time on record. An impromptu meeting of these three unique voices resulted in instant musical chemistry, as they revisited—and often transformed—Frisell’s compositions and a pair of standards.
According to Frisell, co-producer Michael Shrieve—a former member of Santana and a highly creative drummer with whom Frisell has worked—first suggested playing with Jones. “Michael has known Elvin since he was a little kid,” Frisell explains, “and is currently writing a book about him. Out of the blue he told me that I should play with Elvin. I had met Elvin once, about 15 years ago, but I never thought I’d get a chance to play with him.”
Seeing that Shrieve was perfectly serious about the suggestion, Frisell and co-producer Lee Townsend quickly decided on the right bassist for the project. “I had played a little bit with Dave,” Frisell says, “and we’d talked about doing more work together. And Dave had worked with Elvin, so I thought he might be able to tie it all together. The whole thing was like a dream, to be able to play with these guys.”
Each of Frisell’s collaborators on the eponymously titled release can rightfully claim the tag “legendary.” British-born bassist Dave Holland was a mainstay in Miles Davis’s bands immediately prior to and during the Bitches Brew era, and also worked in more avant-garde settings with Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton. In recent years Holland has become one of the most celebrated composers and bandleaders in jazz.
Born in Pontiac and raised in Detroit as part of an enormously gifted musical family, Elvin Jones became one of the most popular and influential drummers in jazz history through his work in the John Coltrane Quartet. He, too, has been a celebrated bandleader, and numerous younger musicians— including Nicholas Payton, Javon Jackson, and Ravi Coltrane—have received their bandstand seasoning as members of his Jazz Machine.
In selecting the tunes for the session, Frisell and Townsend picked some of his most enduring compositions, which were then transformed by the band in the studio. “I wanted to bring Dave and Elvin into my world,” Frisell said. “Strange Meeting,” originally a martial tango, is recast here as a breezy bossa nova. Bluesier material and a folk ballad by Stephen Foster, “Hard Times,” were also chosen because Frisell had always heard the blues in Jones’s playing. “I wasn’t sure how he would react,” Frisell says, “but Elvin got really excited about this stuff—he said that it took him back to the music he used to listen to as a kid in Detroit, like Big Bill Broonzy. And selfishly, if someone has a tune, who wouldn’t want to hear what it would sound like if Elvin Jones played it?”
Bill Frisell's allegorical approach to storytelling draws on a wealth of sounds and styles, and is informed by a jazz attitude. His music is ideally suited to the challenges of the trio format, in which each player is exposed and naked, sharing the rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic responsibilities while trying to project the orchestral dimension of a big band.
Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones is the most down-home, folkish expression yet of the guitarist's borderless blues music. It is perhaps the most expansive, perfected vision of this trip-tych of all-star audiophile recordings, which began with Charlie Haden and Ginger Baker on the drummer's Going Back Home and continued with bassist Viktor Krauss and mandarin L.A. studio drummer Jim Keltner on Frisell's Gone, Just Like a Train.
The big difference here is Frisell's laying-on of mucho post-production touches to flesh out the music in a fascinating mélange of overdubbed acoustic and electric voices. Bassist Holland tolls away with egoless grace and power while drummer Jones plays the blues with cool, understated conviction, filling in the textural holes with his trademark sizzle-cymbal/bass-drum moan and airy, wind-driven sheets of snare precipitation on surprisingly straightforward grooves that evoke visions of Highway 61. Jones does all this so straightforwardly - as in his hypnotic time-keeping on "Coffaro's Theme" and his unadorned shuffle on "Outlaws" - that it might come as something of a shock to those who still associate him mainly with the fervent interplay and complexity of John Coltrane's quartet.
Why should we be so shocked to hear Elvin playing straight time? He sounds as if he's having the time of his life. Listen to the deliciously slow groove of "Blues Dream." But then, this album's first four tunes are fleshed out in great detail with guitar overdubs; in such elaborate orchestrations less is often more, rhythmically speaking - a big, round, evenly spaced quarter note can be just as profound as the most complex polyrhythmic layering.
In responding to Frisell's spacious brand of rhythmic/melodic invention, Holland and Jones bring things to a simmer rather than a full boil, as on "Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa," in which one of Jones' trademark rolling intros leads to a fattening tom-tom drone with Holland and overdubs depict a distant thunderstorm, Frisell's solo providing what lightning there is.
Sonically and spiritually, the music takes on a more or less "jazz" dimension when they play as a straight trio. This happens to glorious effect on a tenderly swinging "Moon River," in which Hones' brushwork and Holland's counterpoint flesh out Frisell's sublime acoustic guitar harmonies; on the mysterious cymbal-driven changes of "Strange Meeting"; and in the shuffling "Convict 13." But to hear these three surge together, as they do in the closing strains of "Smilin' Jones," is to recognize that perhaps this isn't a "jazz" album at all.
Whatever you call it, the wonderful bass extension and holographic textural dimension in Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones make it a definite audiophile's delight. And in its ritualistic portrayal of Americana we gain a new insight into the collective prism of the improviser's art, while Frisell's visceral orchestrations suggest still bolder swatches of color to come
All compositions by Bill Frisell except as indicated.
"Outlaws" – 7:55
"Twenty Years" – 3:15
"Coffaro's Theme" – 4:50
"Blue's Dream" – 4:49
"Moon River" (Mancini, Mercer) – 6:25
"Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa" – 9:06
"Strange Meeting" – 5:22
"Convict 13" – 3:54
"Again" – 7:32
"Hard Times" – 3:39
"Justice and Honor" – 4:48
"Smilin' Jones" – 5:03
Bill Frisell - guitars
Dave Holland - bass
Elvin Jones - drums