Recorded in 1989, Is That You? is very much a studio session, making ample use of overdubs and Bill Frisell's highly selective doubling on bass, banjo, ukulele, and clarinet, as well as his usual guitars. Producer Wayne Horvitz adds keyboards and some drum programming, with Joey Baron playing drums and Dave Hofstra appearing occasionally on tuba and electric bass.
The defining characteristic of any given jazz musician is frequently his sound. The more control a player has over the nature of that sound, the more likely he is to project a distinctive musical personality.
Disfarmer was an outsider artist who became famous for his Depression-era photographs of families, farmers, and individuals around his hometown of Heber Springs, AK. This 2009 Nonesuch CD by Bill Frisell is the score commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts to accompany a retrospective of the artist's work. Frisell and producer Lee Townsend assembled the guitarist's "country" band for the occasion: violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Viktor Krauss, and steel guitarist and mandolinist Greg Leisz. There are 26 cues in this score–sparse, skeletally melodic variations on old-timey parlor music, country blues, and country music, with a few, such as "That's All Right, Mama," done as fusions of hillbilly boogie and square dance music. There's also a version of Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" that's a showcase for the atmospheric power of Leisz's steel guitar, which adds to the melodic shades of the tune. Most of this set, however, falls into moody, extremely minimal music that is haunting in nature–much like the figure of Disfarmer himself, who scared many of the residents of Heber Springs with his strange and imposing presence.
This relatively early set from Bill Frisell is a fine showcase for the utterly unique guitarist. Frisell has the ability to play nearly any extroverted style of music and his humor (check out the date's "Music I Heard") is rarely far below the surface. This particular quintet (with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, tuba player Bob Stewart, electric bassist Jerome Harris and drummer Paul Motian) is not exactly short of original personalities and their outing (featuring seven Frisell compositions) is one of the most lively of all the ones in the ECM catalog.
With his indelible, elastic tone, restless curiosity, and open-eared approach to music beyond the traditional corridors of jazz, guitarist Bill Frisell is among the most prolific and continually surprising improvisers alive. Quartet is built around a typically inventive, typically off-centered Frisell lineup including Ron Miles (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Eyvind Kang (violin, tuba), and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) who draw from a sonorous palette. By avoiding a conventional rhythm section and piano, Frisell and his confederates create a group sound with the intimacy of small jazz group while tapping the timbres of chamber music.
Bill Frisell is an exceptional musician because he has the ability to mine the usual guitaristic textures without getting caught up in clichés, to unearth original ore in the same old vein. Further East/Further West (available only in download form) is a companion album to 2005's East/West, culling material from the same two gigs: four-night stands at the Village Vanguard (December, 2003) and Oakland's Yoshi's (May, 2004), respectively.