Bill Frisell has always been a guitarist of unflappable grace and homespun wisdom, spooling out luscious textures with a deliberate, unmistakable drawl that is an anodyne to tumult and chaos. The revelation of Solos: The Jazz Sessions is that he is able to sustain that gentle luminosity when surrounded by churchlike quiet.
Recorded in a Toronto church in April, 2004, as part of a Canadian television series that filmed solo performances and interviews with prominent jazz musicians, Sessions leads off with Frisell originals ranging from the plainspoken “Keep Your Eyes Open” from Nashville to the effects-laden “Boubacar” from The Intercontinentals, a sweetly simmered goulash of foot-pedaled, knob-turned loops of blues and country licks. Then a string of classic covers ensue, broken only by the conjoining of Frisell’s “Poem For Eva” with the Carter-and-Cash clan’s “Wildwood Flower.” Naturally, Frisell tweaks expectations, delivering a relatively straightforward (by Frisell’s standards anyway) folk rendition of Bob Dylan’s scathing “Masters of War,” while taking liberties with the Appalachian standard “Shenandoah” that include a sudden, metallic eruption that explodes like the northern lights and a peekaboo approach to the familiar melody that lasts until the nine-minute mark.
Last, but not least, are the interview snippets, which are brief but generally valuable, especially the first one, in which Frisell explains why he repeats his song choices so frequently – to remove intellectual impediments until “they feel like a part of my bloodstream.” Mission accomplished on the songs performed here.