Recorded at the culmination of over two years touring, Valentine presents Bill Frisell’s trio with Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Frisell has had his avant-garde associations since the 1990s, but Valentine leans more toward traditional jazz, incorporating the influence of folk and Americana.
The opening track, Baba Drame, is a winding, bluesy piece, led by Frisell, who improvises around a melody on clean electric guitar; Morgan and Royston provide a crescendoing accompaniment as Frisell’s improvisation builds in intensity. However, as the album continues, elements of the avant-garde – recalling perhaps mostly notably Frisell’s time with John Zorn’s Naked City – begin to seep in.
Open-string noise, jarring effects and harmonic dissonance all complement his playing, though they are used reservedly, and without the gritty distortion one might expect. Instead, it is Frisell’s ability as a guitarist that is the primary force. For example, the title track is a more straightforward jazz composition than may be expected, showing Frisell’s skill as a jazz guitarist first and foremost, yet utilising a dissonant melody throughout.
The tracks stitch together seamlessly, with instrumental continuity, yet each with their own individual style. For example, Winter Always Turns To Spring uses delicate, shimmering reverb, accentuating Frisell’s dynamic playing. On the other hand, the ninth track, Wagon Wheels, opens with a dry acoustic bass, before opening up as Frisell and Royston provide harmony and rhythm with warm guitar and stripped back drums. The cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s What The World Needs Now Is Love is highly original, with Frisell simultaneously referencing and exploring the original harmony.
Being so far into his career, it is interesting to see how Frisell’s music has evolved. Valentine represents the more reserved, gentle approach to music that he demonstrated on albums like 1992’s Have A Little Faith. Nonetheless, it is still a highly original album, delivered with the ability and skill of a veteran jazz guitarist.
Baba Drame; Hour Glass; Valentine; Levees; Winter Always Turns To Spring; Keep Your Eyes Open; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Electricity; Wagon Wheels; Aunt Mary; What The World Needs Now Is Love; Where Do We Go?; We Shall Overcome; The Great Flood; Dance; Back At School In Newark (74.27)
Frisell (elg, g); Thomas Morgan (b); Rudy Royston (d). Portland, 2019.