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Album Review

With the exception of 2003's Intercontinentals, Bill Frisell had been playing it pretty safe for some time, sticking to his own personal vision of variations on the Americana theme (with nearly all of those albums being produced by Lee Townsend, by the way). Well, a change of producers often means a change of pace, and teaming up with eclectic producer Hal Willner for Unspeakable seems to have gotten the creative juices flowing again. Their working relationship goes back a long ways, all the way back to the Amarcord Nino Rota tribute from the early '80s. The use of a string section on more than three-fourths of the tunes already adds a different flavor to this album, but the fact that Frisell and Willner seem to have taken inspiration from the sounds of classic soul music is what really sets this apart from others in the Frisell catalog. Not only that, but Frisell's delays return in a more prominent role and he offers up some of his fiercest playing in years. There are a handful of introspective pieces that feature just the strings and guitar, with some slight sonic embellishments from Willner. The majority of the tunes, however, sound something like Bill Frisell scoring the music to Superfly! The soul grooves are tough to miss, but with this cast of players, it comes off like some cinematic offshoot of soul music. The grooves are fantastic, and Frisell really rises to the occasion, bringing back the delays, nasty distorted tone, and ugly harmonics that have been largely absent from his more recent releases. There are still lots of lovely sounds, but it's great to hear him stretching out a bit more again. Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen have not only served as Frisell's rhythm section in the past, but they also play together in Sex Mob. Sometimes aided by Don Alias, they really drive the tunes, with the strings and occasional horns punctuating the melody and Frisell's guitars floating all over the place. Willner's use of turntables and samplers adds some great sounds to the mix, sometimes adding an almost exotica flavor. It's all quite accessible, but fans with delicate ears may be put off by some of the noisier moments on the album, like the keyboard (?) sound on "Stringbean" or the guitar solo on "Old Sugar Bear." Other fans will be delighted to hear such a glorious din on a Bill Frisell record again. After so much of a similar thing, it's just great to hear Frisell being pushed in a new direction (and quite a fun one, at that). Recommended.

Customer Reviews


After my first few listens, I AM INSPIRED. Mr. Frisell is generally acknowledged as one of the best jazz guitarists around... do not let that turn you away from his music. He can not be stuffed in a pidgeonhole quite so easily and has indeed played and recorded music of a great many genres. He seems to incorporate all of this great music be it classical, country, funk or psychedelic into one entity. His music is heartfelt and informed by what is best about expression with intelligence and sensativity not stuffy traditionalism. The only reason I will not give it five stars is that I probably need to listen to it many, many more times.

Ah Bill, the Explorer

While the album contains the regular number of so called "filler" songs, the unfettered creativity and depth with which Bill expresses his ideas is incredibly inpired. Perhaps I am biased, since I buy every record he puts out (about 2 1/2 per year). After meeting him at clinic in Brooklyn, NY of this year, I was privileged enough to speak with him about his albums. Regarding Unspeakable, and considering the number of different musicians combined, "with all the studio tricks" as he put it- he found the experience quite enjoyable- IT SHOWS ON THIS RECORD. A welcome addition to the Bill Frisell discography. I love listening to this record while running through the Georgia Botanical Gardens.


Born: March 18, 1951 in Baltimore, MD

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

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. For example, a saxophonist has virtually unlimited physical control of the sound that comes through his horn, and therefore a wide range of tonal expression at his command, which partially explains the disproportionate number of saxophonists in the pantheon of great jazz musicians. On the other...
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Unspeakable, Bill Frisell
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