Almost every day, Bill Frisell gets up in the morning, has some coffee, and writes music. At this point, there are piles and piles and piles of single pages of staff paper filled with his graceful script. "I don't know where the melodies come from," says Frisell. "I try not to judge anything and just let them be."
Frisell's mantra, or motto so to speak, is, "Music is good" – a statement said to him by his dear friend and great banjo player Danny Barnes. "That is something that I can say is always true. It's so perfect. Everything I need to know is that phrase, ‘Music is Good.' I almost called the album that, but then I thought that might be too literal. It's good to leave it open."
Music IS – to be released March 16 on OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks – marks the long awaited solo album from the master of his craft..
"Playing solo is always a challenge," Frisell says. "For me, music has all along been so much about playing with other people. Having a conversation. Call and response. Playing all by myself is a trip. I really have to change the way I think." In preparation for this recording Frisell played for a week at The Stone in New York, each night attempting new music from the many piles of staff paper he has accumulated over the years. "I was purposely trying to keep myself a little off balance. Uncomfortable. Unsure. I didn't want to fall back on things that I knew were safe. My hope was to continue this process right on into the studio. I didn't want to have things be all planned out beforehand."
He tried to keep that light and spontaneous feeling when recording. The whole process - choosing the tunes, playing the gig, tracking in the studio - ended up feeling like an investigation into memory. There was no planned concept, but what materialized almost felt like an overview.
The focus of Music IS is on the telling of musical stories from Frisell's original and inimitable perspective: some of the interpretations being naked, exposed and truly solo, while others are more orchestrated through overdubbed layering and the use of his unparalleled approach to looping.
Frisell has done so much. He's on well over 250 records, with over 40 of those as a leader. The pieces on Music IS range from his earliest jazz records from the mid-‘80s to excerpts from recent multi-disciplinary collaborations.
Recorded in August of 2017 at Tucker Martine's Flora Recording and Playback studio in Portland, Oregon and produced by longtime collaborator Lee Townsend, all of the compositions on Music IS were written by Frisell, some of them brand new – "Change in the Air," "Thankful," "What Do You Want," "Miss You" and "Go Happy Lucky" – others being solo adaptations of now classic original compositions he had previously recorded, such as "Ron Carter," "Pretty Stars," "Monica Jane," and "The Pioneers." "In Line," and "Rambler" are from Frisell's first two ECM albums.
"Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine are two of my longtime, closest, most trusted musical brothers," explains Frisell. "We've been through thick and thin. They clear the way for me to just PLAY. When we got to the studio I brought a big pile of music and we went from there. Let one thing lead to the next. Trust the process. In the moment. We mixed as we went along. The composing, arranging, playing, recording, and mixing all became one thing."
"I knew from the beginning that I wanted to record my own compositions," Frisell concludes. "In the past few years I've done so many projects playing other people's music (John Lennon, Guitar in the Space Age, When You Wish Upon a Star, etc.). It's wonderful…and seductive. That's how I learn. I could spend the rest of my life studying Burt Bacharach....or Charlie Parker...or Bach...or? Never ending. But, it was time to get back to my own stuff. What ended up on this album were a variety of pieces. Some brand new and some from way far back. 'In Line' and 'Rambler' are from my very first recordings on ECM. I've been plugging away playing music for more than fifty years now. I'll never figure it out. One of the amazing things about getting older is being able to revisit things that I heard or played long ago. There's always something new to discover, something to uncover. New pathways open up. If I'm really lucky I might even realize that I've learned something along the way. It's far out looking at my own music though this long lens."
Music IS. The end result is Bill Frisell at his most distilled and fully realized.