When Mayer emailed the team asking if anyone wanted to interview Bill Frisell, my response was “F*&k Yes!” I’ve been a fan ever since hearing his 2001 album simply titled With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones. That’s probably still my favorite album after all these years, with Disfarmer, Nashville, and others somewhere up there as well. And after a few listens to Valentine, its apparent that Frisell, at 69, is not done making beautiful and relevant music.
After telling Frisell how much I admired his music and getting my “fan boy mode” over with we talked about Valentine, whose name, as well as many things in Bill’s life, was a bit haphazard. “Nothing seems pre-planned or organized with the name of the album or this group. We had been playing together over last summer then went into the studio after the tour with a list of 50 songs, but I also brought in stuff we’ve never played before. I’m never sure what will happen and that’s when the stuff lifts off. There’s so much history with Rudy and Thomas. We’ve known each other for a long time and started playing together in tons of situations. The history of this trio is at least 5 years or so.”
In the press materials for Valentine, Frisell remarks that he wanted to capture this trio in the studio to ensure it was real and that he hadn’t dreamed it. I can see why. Throughout the tracks the guys are locked in like a well oiled machine that has been up and down the roads of the world. And when asked if there’s any first takes on the album, his response, “Oh yeah. We don’t do more than 2 or 3 at the most.” And when asked about the trio, Bill states, “There’s a mathematical pattern with the trio. I always seem to come back to a trio. It’s mostly about the people rather than the instrumentation. What draws me to something is the people and how will these people interact with each other.”
Frisell says a lot times when performing a cover song, he’s singing the lyrics in his head, but he may not know all of the words to all the songs he plays. But, the vocalist associated with the song and the lyrics really impact the way he’s playing when a phrase comes to mind. Many times he’s hearing a sound of the voice or person he associates singing the song. For “A Change is Gonna Come” he can hear the voice of Sam Cooke, the massive amount of energy coming out and he can’t come close to getting that sound in the air.
I talked with Bill in late July and the trio had just played on a friend’s porch the previous weekend in Brooklyn. They were preparing for a live stream/no audience show at the Village Vanguard which was held August 7. “Everything is cancelled. We were supposed to have a European tour in October but I really don’t see how that’s going to happen. Every time I open my calendar I see where I was supposed to be. Right now I was supposed to be in Canada. It can be kind of dark.”
But that darkness doesn’t seem to creep in too often, and the humbleness and light of Bill Frisell seem to be just part of who he is. “Everyday you wake up and it’s infinite, everything you haven’t touched. I read a piece recently on Sonny Rollins. When someone like Sonny Rollins, such an inspiration, someone on that level, it’s just the height and the things he’s achieved and you hear him speak and he doesn’t feel like he’s even gotten close. He gets down to the essential advice, which is practice and the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and practice.”
RIYL: good friends, good neighbors, good music
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