Bill Frisell follows-up his acclaimed 2020 trio album Valentine with the November 11 release of Four, a stunning 13-track meditation on loss, renewal, and friendships.
The guitarist and composer’s third album for Blue Note Records since signing with the label in 2019 proffers new interpretations of previously recorded Frisell originals as well as nine new tunes. Produced by Lee Townsend, the session brings together a new lineup of musical friends, independent spirits, and like minds: Blue Note stablemates Gerald Clayton on piano and Johnathan Blake on drums, and longtime collaborator Greg Tardy on saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet. To celebrate the release, Frissell has shared “Waltz for Hal Willner,” a heartfelt tribute to his dear friend.
During the lockdown, like so many prolific artists, Frisell turned inward. “It was traumatic not to be with people,” he says, “so I picked up my guitar, and my guitar saved me.” For those months, he wrote stacks of melodies and compositional ideas. By the time he scheduled Four’s recording sessions, he’d amassed piles of notebooks filled with fragmented music. Laying little more than a sketch of information before his fellow artists, Frisell encouraged a kind of spontaneous, cooperative orchestration.
“Everyone had the information, but it was super open as far as who plays what when,” he says. “Without a bass, it was a little scary, but I wasn’t thinking so much about the instruments. It’s always more about the chemical reaction that’s going to happen.”
Across the recording, each artist’s expression emerges as equal parts melodic and textural. Strong, subtle choices establish the music’s depth of character from the first phrase. Their collective counterpoint shapeshifts, but they remain true to each song’s initial idea. Rarely does anyone grab the mic.
“Everyone is just jumping into it all together, and then you find this way of talking with each other,” says Frisell. “You listen to Miles Davis’ quintet and maybe Miles is taking a solo, but it’s the cooperative thing that blows your mind.”