Bill Frisell: Sign of Life

Album review
Bill Frisell: Sign of Life

Bill Frisell

Sign of Life

Label: Savoy
Media: CD
Genre: Jazz

Known primarily as a jazz-fusion innovator, guitarist Frisell imparts his unique palette of timbres, textures, and colors to a chamber setting with his 858 Quartet (Jenny Scheinman, violin; Eyvind Kang, viola; Hank Roberts, cello), founded to create music in response to expressionist paintings by Gerhard Richter. With his mates plucking and bowing, and Frisell adding sustains, effects, and solos, the foursome pulsates and sighs like emotions coursing through the soul. One listening to this glossily mixed CD—tightly wound snaps and smears sheathed in aural amber—will trigger haunting questions. Is that an echo of the old sea shanty “Blow the Man Down”? Are the minimal variations and modulations of “Sixty Four” supposed to recall Philip Glass? Is Charles Ives stalking the hoedown jaunt of “Suitcase in My Hand”? Two motifs (“It’s a Long Story” and “Friend of Mine”) are reprised in new configurations, which further sears them into memory. Arranged “on the spot” in the studio, these 17 tunes rooted in Americana have a slightly hallucinogenic feel, like a Ken Burns soundtrack re- imagined by György Ligeti. If some of the one- and two-minute miniatures beg for fuller development, the teases add to the satisfying tension that runs through the album. 

More Info

  • primary artist, Bill Frisell
  • CD

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