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June 2018 Relix Magazine Sampler: Slim Wednesday "No (So) Good"
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Swing Time: Bill Frisell

Jeff Tamarkin | June 12, 2018
Dino Perrucci

Bill Frisell’s new solo album for OKeh Records is called Music IS. The title came to him via a banjo-playing friend. “One day, he was just playing and he said, ‘You know, music is good,’” Frisell recalls.

The idea stuck. But now, after being asked if he really feels that way, Frisell is having second thoughts. “One time, I was playing with [the late jazz drummer] Paul Motian in Berlin at this little club. We walked off stage and this guy grabbed me and started strangling me. He said, ‘You are killing music!’ He was physically attacking me because whatever I was playing was disturbing him so much. See, now you’re ruining my whole theory that music is good.”

Frisell laughs but, truly, he’s got nothing to worry about. Over the course of more than three decades, the quality of music he has created has been uniformly stellar, even as he continually dodges categorization. Frisell has long carved out a place deep within the Downtown New York City avant-garde but has also recorded tributes to John Lennon and film soundtrack music. In 1999, Frisell teamed up with Elvis Costello for The Sweetest Punch—comprised almost completely of tunes that Costello wrote with Burt Bacharach—while he put his signature spin on hits from The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Link Wray and Merle Travis, among others, on 2014’s Guitar in the Space Age!

Maintaining a schedule that makes a mockery of the word “prolific,” and surprising even himself with his career choices, Frisell has recorded and performed live in so many different situations and configurations that it would take an entire issue of this magazine to even scratch the surface. He’s most often characterized as a jazz guitarist—he collaborated frequently with Motian and saxophonist Joe Lovano, as well as John Zorn, Ron Carter, Charles Lloyd and hundreds of others—but, these days, he’s just as likely to be embraced by the Americana crowd. Sometimes there might be an incensed strangler out there but, more often than not, his innovations are lauded by his considerable fan base and fellow musicians.

“Every single person could listen to the same thing and they’re all going to hear something different—no one’s going to hear it the same way.” Frisell says. “Music is powerful, but it doesn’t hurt anybody. So much stuff can get worked out in music. It seems like such a healthy thing, a model for how human beings can fit together. Just the words that you use in discussing music—harmony and conflict and resolution and counterpoint—it shows you that if we could get along in a more musical way, things might work out better.”