Album reviews

Bill Frisell – ‘Four’

Bill Frisell – Four

(Blue Note Records – Album Review by Jane Mann)

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The dedication on this new album from guitarist/composer Bill Frisell is “to dear old friends”. It’s a beautiful piece of work, infused with melancholy and wistfulness. It is redolent of “the strange time we’re in”, as Frisell puts it – and it grew out of that period of isolation, introspection and grief that we all went through because of the pandemic.

Frisell said: “It was traumatic not to be with people, so I picked up my guitar, and my guitar saved me.” 

The quartet is new, with Gregory Tardy – clarinet / saxophone, Gerald Clayton – piano and Johnathan Blake – drums and Frisell mainly playing electric guitar. Frisell has known the musicians for many years, and has played with each of them individually in different contexts, but this is the first time they have all worked together. It turns out to be a lovely thing.

There are nine new compositions based on fragments which Frisell had turning around in his head during his exile, linked to remembering old friends – musical soulmate Ron Miles, painter Claude Utley, music producer Hal Willner and his friend since childhood Alan Woodard.

There are also three old tunes revisited from 1999 Good Dog Happy Man, Monroe, Pioneers and one from 1988 Lookout for Hope.

The pieces, many of them first takes, are great – the playing is matchless, no-one dominates, and each musician plays with great sensitivity. The album is called Four and it does feel like a proper collaboration between the four artists. Even so, the overall sound will be familiar to Frisell fans, because he always is so very much himself whatever the setting, and whoever he is playing with. There are the usual elements of Americana – melodies like half remembered spirituals or blues. Then there are elements of contemporary classical music, echoes of Aaron Copland and Nino Rota. Underneath it all is the groove of jazz, albeit finely textured, melodic chamber jazz. Despite the underlying melancholia, there are still moments of joyfulness and lightness, particularly in my two favourite tracks Holiday and Waltz for Hal Willner.

In an interview with Don Was, president of Blue Note Records (embedded below), Frisell explains the memorial aspect of the album. In the same way that his house is filled with paintings by his recently deceased friend Utley, he maintains that his own playing is permeated with the influences his musical friends have had on him over many years.

“Music is for me the most tangible solid way of keeping these people with us, you know…”


Bill Frisell – Electric Guitar, Baritone Guitar and Acoustic Guitar

Gregory Tardy – Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet and Bass Clarinet

Gerald Clayton – Piano

Johnathan Blake – Drums

Track Listing: ( All compositions by Bill Frisell)

  1. Dear Old Friend (for Alan Woodard)
  2. Claude Utley
  3. The Pioneers
  4. Holiday
  5. Waltz for Hal Willner
  6. Lookout for Hope
  7. Monroe
  8. Wise Woman
  9. Blues from Before
  10. Always
  11. Good Dog, Happy Man
  12. Invisible
  13. Dog on a Roof

LINK: Buy Four

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