Bill Frisell: All We Are Saying... (2011)
If there's any sign that Bill Frisell's move to Savoy was a good one, it's the release of All We Are Saying..., which makes three albums from the veteran guitarist in just thirteen months. Frisell left two decades at Nonesuch to be able to release more than one album a year, in order to keep up with a still-growing myriad of projects, and with this John Lennon tribute not even in the plans when Beautiful Dreamers was released, in August, 2010, and yet to be recorded when Sign of Life came eight months later, Savoy has proven its ability to respond in ways that bigger labels simply cannot.
All We Are Saying... isn't without a precedent. Frisell first tackled an evening of Lennon songs, with violinist Jenny Scheinman and steel guitarist Greg Leisz, at an October, 2005 performance in Paris. A London show, a couple weeks later, was released as part of Frisell's ongoing Live Download Series, but it wasn't until Frisell's four-day residency at Oakland, CA's Yoshi's, in April, 2010, that he came back to the repertoire with a rockier complexion, longtime bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen fleshing the project out to the quintet that ultimately recorded this set of sixteen Lennon tunes during the last week of June, 2011.
All We Are Saying... is Frisell's closest thing to a rock record yet, though that doesn't mean it's lacking in the kind of in-the-moment arrangements and spontaneous orchestrations that defined Sign of Life. This is no "Beatles-meets-jazz" record with copious soloing; Frisell's Lennon homage remains both reverent to these iconic melodies, and largely faithful to their basic structures. Digging back to the title track of the Fab Four's debut, Please Please Me (Parlophone, 1963), Wollesen channels his inner Ringo (but with a lazier backbeat), its familiar melody empathically and collectively implied more than overtly delivered. Rather than expanding on "Beautiful Boy," from Double Fantasy (Geffen, 1980), Frisell actually shortens the tune, evidence (as if any were needed) of the economical guitarist's enduring "say all that needs be said, and nothing more" approach.
Poignant readings of "Across the Universe" and "In My Life" contrast with the grungy rock and roll of "Revolution" and greasier "Come Together," while Wollesen's deep, behind-the-beat snare and Scherr's in-the-pocket support drives "Imagine," its original orchestration reduced to just three voices without missing a thing. Curious harmonics create an oblique opening to a slower-than-original "Mother," while Wollesen's tumultuous colorations on the powerfully rubato "Give Peace a Chance" combine with Frisell's heavily effected guitar and Leisz's swelling pedal steel to create a psychedelic tour de force even the acid-dropping Lennon could never have envisioned.
Is releasing three back-to-back albums in the space of thirteen months a good thing? It is when you've Frisell's restless desire to explore the broadest possible musical spectrum. Once a jazzer but now beyond simple categorization, All We Are Saying... may be Frisell's closest thing to a rock record but, informed by years of improvisational experimentationmelodically, harmonically and texturallyit's an album that simply couldn't have been made by anyone else.
Track Listing: Across the Universe; Revolution; Nowhere Man; Imagine; Please Please Me; You've Got to Hide Your Love Away; Hold On; In My Life; Come Together; Julia; Woman; #9 Dream; Love; Beautiful Boy; Mother; Give Peace a Chance.
Personnel: Bill Frisell: guitar; Greg Leisz: steel and acoustic guitars; Jenny Scheinman: violin; Tony Scherr: bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums.