Skúli Sverrisson & Bill Frisell – Strata – Newvelle Records NVO16LP – audiophile vinyl – ****1/2

(Skúli Sverrisson – electric and acoustic bass; Bill Frisell – electric and acoustic guitars)

In a society in which we are bombarded daily with crass and obscene vitriol, it is such a pleasure to experience the beauty and contentment of improvised instrumental music that crosses many genres to satisfy the soul and heal the heart. Such is the case with the latest Newvelle Records vinyl issue. It will help lighten the load of dealing with the recent onslaught of craziness that we are forced to experience.

Newvelle’s new release in their third season of audiophile bliss, is the duo of Icelandic bass impresario, Skúli Sverrisson, and the American guitar master, Bill Frisell. Titled, Strata, the ten compositions were all composed by Sverrisson, who has long wanted to musically converse with Frisell. For lovers of guitar/bass improvisation, it will be a memorable auditory pleasure. As with all Newvelle releases, the sound is impeccable. Recorded and mixed by Marc Urselli, who handles these duties on all Newvelle issues, the blend of the strings, and the crystal clear sound stage provide an opportunity to savor the talents of these two men.

Sk\úli Sverrisson, by Hreinn Gudlaugsson

Skúli Sverrisson
by Hreinn Gudlaugsson

The theme here is elegance, a symbiotic communication, where there is immediate feedback, deep concentration in an effort to share the joy of a blend of folk, chamber, and classical genres with jazz overtones. With the use of guitar layering, and occasional effects, a mood of elation and deep contentment occur. This is not sleepy background music, it demands attention, but in a calming manner. It will reward multiple play to appreciate the treasures within.

Skúli’s electric bass often times blends as if it is another guitar, as his steady and repeated lines provide a bottom end on which Frisell can go off in different directions. “Sweet Earth” and “Instants” are folk oriented and set the stage for what is to come. “Vanishing Point” has Skúli taking a stronger role, and like most of the more brief (under three minutes) tracks, you wish the experience could last longer. “Ancient Affection” benefits from Bill’s skills with reverb, as does the ballad, “Came to Light.”

Portrait of Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

On side B, “Cave of Swimmers” has a waltz tempo, deliberate, much like you’d hear in a church service interlude. “Amedeo” may be my favorite track with its counterpoint and reflective commentary between the duo. “Afternoon Variant” provides an opportunity to stretch out a bit, playing with the melody while going off to explore new directions. “Her Room” is divine as a soothing lullaby and it is a “room” that I would like to have, to escape to, when the need for de-escalation creeps in.

With this marvelous release, Newvelle Records has succeeded again in providing a home for creativity and joy to reign, for a respite that we all need now, more than ever.

Side A:
Sweet Earth
Vanishing Point
Ancient Affection
Came to Light

Side B:
Cave of Swimmers
Afternoon Variant
Her Room

Jeff Krow