Guitar in the Space Age! finds guitarist Bill Frisell going back in time to the guitar music of the country, surf, blues, and early rock & roll of the late 1950s through the mid-'60s: the music that initially inspired him. His band -- Greg Leisz on guitar and pedal steel, drummer /vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, and bassist Tony Scherr -- are all longtime associates. Though most of these songs are classics -- there are two originals -- Frisell reimagines them in a jazzman's context while remaining faithful to familiar ...
Guitar in the Space Age! finds guitarist Bill Frisell going back in time to the guitar music of the country, surf, blues, and early rock & roll of the late 1950s through the mid-'60s: the music that initially inspired him. His band -- Greg Leisz on guitar and pedal steel, drummer /vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, and bassist Tony Scherr -- are all longtime associates. Though most of these songs are classics -- there are two originals -- Frisell reimagines them in a jazzman's context while remaining faithful to familiar presentations. This is demonstrated amply on the opening surf nugget "Pipeline." Rather than go straight for the jugular the way most (gimmicky) remakes do, he slows its pace by half and focuses on the intricate melody at work, slightly skewing its rhythmic attack toward moody post-bop swing. Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn" mirrors the Byrds' version with its guitar jangle, but also blurs the space between folk's simple presentation, rock & roll's hooky harmonies, and jazz's nuance. Junior Wells' "Messin' with the Kid" contains some of the swaggering boogie of the original, but there's more restrained precision in Frisell's staccato playing, as well as an intense wah-wah groove; it's at a low boil rather than a roiling one. Brian Wilson's "Surfer Girl" asks the question as to why the Beach Boys' famed composer doesn't get the interpretive treatment from jazzmen that other pop acts of the era do. Link Wray's "Rumble" gets the serious wailing blues-cum-surf workout it's always deserved, with an orgy of tremolo and reverb reflecting its debt to the composer. "Rebel Rouser" reveals more clearly than any other version its lyric inspiration -- "When the Saints Go Marching In" -- without giving up the strutting twang. The intro to "Baja" -- Lee Hazlewood's 1963 hit for the Astronauts -- with Leisz on alternate lead guitar showcases remarkable interplay with multi-textured dynamics and popping rock & roll drums. "Reflections from the Moon" and "Bryant's Boogie," by instrumental country duo Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, respectively, shine in their hard-swinging jazz syncopations and advanced harmonics. The closer is an absolutely majestic version of Joe Meek's "Telstar," with Leisz's pedal steel extrapolating on Frisell's gorgeous articulation of the melody. Scherr wraps his bass between the two as Wollesen simultaneously swings and rocks. Guitar in the Space Age! is a joyous recording. Far from an exercise in mere nostalgia, it reveals new reasons as to why these tunes are eternal. Frisell and his collaborators understood exactly what they were going for, and it sounds like they had a hell of a great time getting there. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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