Sunday, 12 March 2017

Old Bill

Go Outdoors, Millbrook, Southampton

There are an awful lot of guitar players out there, vying for our attention. Very few of them have a sound and technique that are instantly recognisable, however, even a sometime guitar "god" like Eric Clapton, who has become little more than just another tasteful, soulful, blues-lick broker. Bill Frisell is different, though, a proper guitar deity; at least, in my personal pantheon of musicians. Never heard of him? Well, if not, it's time you did. Check out these interpretations of two very familiar tunes:

These may not be slick, fretboard-shredding pyrotechnic displays, but no-one understands the inventive use of space, timing, and dynamics quite like Bill Frisell. His understated use of pedals and loops is also pretty unique. This is guitar-playing as an art-form, as feeling, not as ego-amplification. His people-skills and self-presentation may be lacking, somewhat (he has been referred to as "the Clark Kent of the guitar" – you can watch him don his Superbill cape in this performance), but you can tell that he just loves the way a guitar sounds. He must spend hours just playing about with the same plangent chord sequence, even just striking the same resonant note, over and over. And any guitar genius who can carry off wearing a cardigan while playing the theme from Bonanza is OK with me. Carry on, Bill.

Villiers Road, Shirley, Southampton

Interpretive creativity like this is based on – but should not be confused with – technical mastery. I could draw some parallels with certain alleged masters of and approaches to photography, but won't. Interpretive creativity is not quite the same thing as the first-order creativity that actually writes the songs in question, but a close relative. If you're interested in such things, the best account I've read recently of the nature of creativity, of what it feels like to invest time in writing or making pictures, is this article in the Guardian by George Saunders. Well worth ten minutes of your time.

Highfield Campus, Souhampton


Zouk Delors said...

Thanks for this, Mike. I don't know why the name Bill Frisell has never reached my consciousness before. Now that it has, I've just noticed in reading up about my (our?) favourite cartoon strip that an animated film, Gary Larsen's Tales From The Far Side, "features an original music score by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell".

Mike C. said...


He's a prolific musician of many personalities, but my personal recommendation of albums would be "Blues Dream", "Good Dog, Happy Man", and if you can take a little "jazz" his contribution to Kenny Wheeler's "Angel Song" is outstanding.