you are a professional musician of some name, who hasn’t played with Bill
Frisell, you’re probably pretty boring. It certainly doesn’t have anything to
do with category. Frisell is best known as a jazz artist, but he can play
anything with anyone, including classical string music, experimental hardcore,
free improv, folk, roots, blues, and country. He always fits in, yet he always
sounds like himself. Emma Franz profiles the superhumanly busy guitarist in Bill Frisell: A Portrait (trailer here), which screens
during the 2017 Nashville Film Festival.
Franz talks to a small army of famous musicians who have played with Frisell,
because he is not the type to sing his own praises. It is doubly fortuitous,
considering two of his most important colleagues are no longer with us. The late,
great Jim Hall, with whom he studied and later recorded with as a duo, argues
he might have influenced Frisell initially, but in later years, Hall was
influenced by Frisell. Similarly, the late and equally great Paul Motian
reminisces about the formation of his classic trio with Frisell and Joe Lovano.
It is hard to believe they are both gone, but their contributions to Franz’s
film provide a nice way to remember them.
course, they are not the only musicians offering testimonials. We also hear
from Lovano, Ron Carter, John Abercrombie, Jason Moran, John Zorn, Nels Cline,
Jack DeJohnette, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Simon. More importantly, we get to hear
him perform in a variety of contexts, including the Motian-Lovano trio, a new
trio with Jason Moran, and the avant-garde chamber ensemble, the 858 Quartet. Some
of the music swings way harder than you might expect, while some is just
arrestingly beautiful, but it is always interesting.
the other hand, you might have to be a bit of guitar nut to appreciate the countless
instruments Frisell show-and-tells for Franz, many of which were hand-painted by
relatively well-known artists. Regardless, Frisell’s aw-shucks attitude wears
well over time. In fact, he is extraordinarily modest for a man who is probably
called a genius several times a day.
Nashville is the perfect place to screen Frisell’s documentary. Sure, it is
known as a country town, but he has done that too. However, the Nashville
studio warriors should be able to relate. They can play anything, anywhere, at
any time, as long as the pay is decent. They are also sure to be familiar with
at least some of Frisell’s voluminous recorded output. For those coming in
cold, Franz and company convincingly establish Frisell’s significance in music
today, across genre boundaries, whereas everyone should enjoy the generous
musical selections. Highly recommended, Bill
Frisell: A Portrait screens Monday (4/24) and Tuesday (4/25) at this year’s
Nashville Film Festival.
Labels: Bill Frisell, Documentary, Jim Hall, Joe Lovano, Nashville '17, Paul Motian