Bill Frisell – Orchestras – Blue Note

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell goes big.

Bill Frisell – Orchestras – [TrackList follows] – Blue Note 00602458837339, CD1: 46:23, CD2: 40:18 [4/19/24] ****:

(CD1: Brussels Philharmonic with Alexander Hanson, conductor; CD2: Umbria Jazz Orchestra with Manuele Morbidini, music director; both CDs: music orchestrated and arranged by Michael Gibbs; Bill Frisell – electric guitar; Thomas Morgan – bass; Rudy Royston – drums)

Guitarist Bill Frisell offers something sizable on his new, double-album Orchestras. As the project’s title suggests, Frisell turns to large ensembles to help his trio – with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston – perform a mix of originals, covers and traditional elements. The music on  both discs was orchestrated and arranged by Michael Gibbs, no stranger to Frisell’s music, see 2015’s Play a Bill Frisell Set List with the NDR Big Band on the Cuneiform label.

Orchestras was issued on compact disc, vinyl and digitally, and there is a 3-LP direct-to-consumer exclusive version which has a third disc of material not available anywhere else. This review refers to the compact disc. The CD and LP have liner notes with complete credits for all the musicians and engineering staff plus some photos.

It’s not every jazz artist who works with a full orchestra. That’s what happens on the first disc, where Frisell’s trio are integrated with the 60-piece Brussels Philharmonic conducted by Alexander Hanson. There is an unified approach to the 46-minute, nine-track program recorded in late September 2022 at De Bijloke, Ghent, Belgium and Flagey, Brussels, Belgium. CD 1 commences with Gibb’s “Nocturne Vulgaire” – which can also be heard on another large ensemble jazz undertaking, Gary Burton’s 1973 record Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra – which is akin to soundtrack music and seamlessly segues into a graceful rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s romantic ballad, “Lush Life,” which includes urbane interplay between Frisell’s electric strings and the orchestra’s string section. That’s followed by an adaptation of Ron Carter’s “Doom,” where the string section supplies some stylish contemporary elan – one can almost imagine Elmer Bernstein orchestrating this piece – while Frisell utilizes some of his uncanny guitar twists which counterpoint the orchestral timbre.

The rest of disc one has four Frisell originals, another Gibbs tune, and concludes with Stephen Foster’s parlor song, “Beautiful Dreamer.” Frisell’s “Rag” has a flourishing deportment and a Spanish seasoning; “Throughout” glides along with a gossamer waltz tempo; while “Electricity” has a country-influenced aspect and a motile movement; and the obscure “Richter 858, No. 7,” from a Frisell 2005 record inspired by Gerhard Richter’s paintings, initiates with an elegiac dynamic then gradually deepens the rhythmic flow and everything intensifies toward the finale. The arrangement of Foster’s song – about a woman who is unmindful of worldly cares – heightens the lovely melody and its fundamental harmonic support.

CD 2 enlists the 11-piece Umbria Jazz Orchestra with music director Manuele Morbidini and was taped  in late December through early January 1, 2022 at Teatro Mancinelli, Orvieto, Italy. The 40-minute, seven-track show comprises five Frisell compositions, another version of Carter’s “Doom” and one traditional number. “Lookout For Hope,” the title track from a Frisell 1987 ECM record, has an interrelated, fusion-ish composite highlighted by Frisell’s understated guitar and Royston’s finessed drums. The relaxed “Levees” – from Frisell’s 2020 Blue Note album Valentine – has some fine Frisell bluesy lines nicely complemented by the horns. In 1994 Frisell added a small horn section to his release, This Land, and thus the updated translation of “Strange Meeting” from This Land doesn’t stray too far from the 1994 presentation. Listeners will probably enjoy comparing both “Doom” and “Electricity,” since they are also on disc one. “Monica Jane,” also from This Land, has a dusky quality and burnished unison contours from the horns. Frisell closes with a moving “We Shall Overcome” [also Valentine] which showcases Frisell’s gentle way with this time-honored traditional tune.

Some jazz fans may automatically dismiss such orchestral jazz projects but in this case they should not. Frisell and Gibbs are a team which work very well together. Often the composition and the arrangement are intrinsically linked and it’s sometimes difficult to tell where the improvisation leads off and/or when the arrangement halts or is brought into the foreground. And certainly Frisell devotees should relish a chance to hear some of his music in a fresh context.

—Doug Simpson

Bill Frisell – Orchestras


Nocturne Vulgaire (by Michael Gibbs)
Lush Life (by Billy Strayhorn)
Doom (by Ron Carter)
Rag (by Bill Frisell)
Throughout (by Bill Frisell)
Electricity (by Bill Frisell)
Sweet Rain (by Michael Gibbs)
Richter 858, No. 7 (by Bill Frisell)
Beautiful Dreamer (by Stephen Foster)

CD 2:
Lookout for Hope (by Bill Frisell)
Levees (by Bill Frisell)
Strange Meeting (by Bill Frisell)
Doom (by Ron Carter)
Electricity (by Bill Frisell)
Monica Jane (by Bill Frisell)
We Shall Overcome (traditional, arranged by Bill Frisell)

More information through Bill Frisell

Album Cover for Bill Frisell Orchestras

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