Bill Frisell has been an important voice in jazz guitar since the 1980s. I first heard him on the 1985 recording Bass Desires by bassist Marc Johnson (also featuring my favorite drummer at the time Peter Erskine!!). Immediately noticeable on this recording is how Frisell chose more free floating, ambient textures interspersed with some passages that resembled the string of notes more common to jazz improvisation and referred to as ‘lines.’ In the three examples chosen for this week, we hear the three characteristics I think exemplify Bill’s guitar style. Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair is one of my favorite compositions by jazz vocalist Nina Simone and features the guitarists early ambient textures. Eighty One was first recorded by Miles Davis on the Miles Smiles record and this version features Frisell’s blues and country roots filtered through his array of effects pedals that allow him to create the soundscapes he’s become known for. Most interesting to my ear, is his rendition of You Are My Sunshine! For many of us, this is a familiar melody, but in the hands of Frisell it is twisted upside down and inside out reflecting what has been referred to as his ‘Americana’ sound, or the wide open spaces of his sound that remind some of the open expanses of the west.
I know that I have mentioned some things that may be unfamiliar to you relating to blues form, and the influence of this distinctly African-American music on the music of Speedy West/Jimmy Bryant, and Bill Frisell. In our sessions I hope to clear this up but want you to start thinking about the blues not just as a style of music, but as a language, a foundation or template that can be used to construct or deconstruct in a variety of ways. Interestingly enough, it is this very template that allowed Speedy and Jimmy to create a type of Т pseudo-jazz from country music, Bill to deconstruct jazz lines into a collage of sound, AND still be the essence of the foundation that allowed DJ Kool Herc and the Sugar Hill Gang to the birth of Hip Hop!
What made Speedy & Jimmy so special anyway?