Bill Frisell: All We Are Saying... (2011)
Thirty-one years after John Lennon's murder there's no sign of his influence waning. Guitarist Bill Frisell adds personal tribute to the singer/songwriter/activist on All We Are Saying..., the year after vigils and tribute concerts were held to honor Lennon's 70th birthday from Liverpool to New York and everywhere in between. In Iceland, Yoko Ono lit a tulip-shaped beacon of light in the memorial Imagine Peace Tower, which combined with the Northern Lights in spectacular tribute. Frisell's homage is, of course, more subdued, but these heartfelt renditions of Lennon's music reflect long devotion; as Frisell says in the liner notes: "There was nothing we really needed to do to prepare for this. We've been preparing our whole lives."
The project had an unforeseen birth, beginning as a one-off Lennon tribute at a Paris concert in 2005. Frisell was in a trio then, with violinist Jenny Scheinman and steel guitarist Greg Leisz, though apart from one delightful duet between Frisell and Scheinman on "Love," all the selections here feature Frisell's quintet, with drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Tony Scherr adding a simple pulse to the music. On more rocked-out tunes like "Revolution" and "Come Together," the strong backbeat and precise bass works well, but Frisell, Scheinman and Leisz dovetail so beautifully throughout that there's a feeling some tunes might have worked better in a more intimate trio setting.
Rather than try to create a sonically challenging, genre-bending reinterpretation of Lennon's music, Frisell presents a straightforward country/rock-flavored set, reflecting the guitarist and his group's love of Lennon's melodies. With one, two or all three of the string-players carrying the melody faithfully, improvisational embellishment is restricted to counterpoint flourishes and arresting harmonics, and fans of Frisell's sometimes more exuberant playing might be disappointedthis is very much a tribute to Lennon's tunes, and not a showcase for virtuosity. The country/roots feel of the music makes this one of the most Americana-flavored of Frisell's body of work, which is perhaps ironic, given the source material originally hails from the English industrial city of Liverpool.
Some of the tunes work better than others, with "Please, Please Me" sounding a little stiff, but slower tunes like "Imagine," "In My Life," "Julia" and "Woman" fully reveal the string interplay at its most empathetic; the passing back and forth of "Across the Universe"'s melody is touching, as though Frisell, Scheinman and Leisz are genuinely sharing an object of rare beauty. The centerpieceand worth the price of admissionis a gorgeous rendition of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," with Frisell's improvisations as seductive as they are succinct. The more guitar-centric "Mother" is a slow-burning blues, while Frisell really shines on "Number 9 Dream," his chords and pearly little peels seeming to pay secondary tribute to Wes Montgomery.
The appropriately inspired closer, "Give Peace a Chance," is imbued with the quietly epic quality that is a Frisell trademark. One of the most elegant Lennon tributes, All We Are Saying... is yet another fine addition to the eclectic Frisell's discography; where will he take us next?
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; Number 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.