A recording to return to and savour.

Blue Note 00602458837 407

Bill Frisell (electric guitar); Thomas Morgan (bass); Rudy Royston (drums)

Disc One: Featuring Brussels Philharmonic; Alexander Hanson (Conductor)                       Recorded September 22 & 23, 2022

Disc Two: Featuring Umbria Jazz Orchestra; Manuele Morbidini (Musical Director) Recorded December 30, 2021 – January 1, 2022

Guitarist Bill Frisell has always thought and played orchestrally, although his preferred line up has often been a trio. The wide sound scape he opens up within his own playing has often made up for lack of other musicians or instruments, and his guitar seemingly offers Frisell endless possibilities in terms of dynamics and texture.

Once again, he has thought big, and this 2 LP/CD set serves up two very different concerts and contexts for his trio. The first concert presented features Frisell with Thomas Morgan and Rudy Royston alongside the Brussels Philharmonic conducted by Alexander Hanson with arrangements by Mike Gibbs.

The music has been cleverly arranged by Gibbs and does not always conform the idea that the trio becomes part of the orchestra, or vice versa. There are moments when the distinct impression is that the trio are doing their thing, and the orchestra are participating at a distance from the main event, and then Gibbs brings everything gloriously together.

This freedom that the trio find within the music creates a finely wrought tension, and while at times there is the feeling that the music lacks much in the way of dynamics and that maybe a trick or two has been missed there will be a moment that catches the ear and ensuring that the music is brought sharply into focus.

The concert with the Brussels Philharmonic opens with Mike Gibbs’s rather oppressive ‘Nocturne Vulgaire’ before the harmonies start to sound familiar drifting into a serene almost pensive ‘Lush Life’. This is immediately followed by one of two versions of ‘Doom’, one is each of the concerts, by Ron Carter. Many will recognise the composition under its original title of ‘Mood’ that appears on the Miles Davis album E.S.P.

It is at this point that the music feels a little one dimensional, but Frisell and Gibbs confound expectations with ‘Rag’, a playful composition that begins with the trio tying with the theme before the orchestra enter and mood really picks up in a lively arrangement that then gives the trio something to think about and Frisell’s lines jostle to wonderful effect against the strings.

Another composition that is heard in both concerts is ‘Electricity’ and in this version with the Brussels Philharmonic generates some heat with a slow low intensity burn and some neat riffing from the guitarist. This is followed by a lovely arrangement of ‘Sweet Rain’ before the deceptive ‘Richter 858, No. 7’ that again opens with a gentle lyricism from Frisell and the orchestra. Just shy of the halfway point, the guitarist hits on a rhythmic motif that gently stokes the fire as the strings build up the intensity working against the trio in a manner that becomes increasingly before being resolved by the orchestra having the final word. The concert with the Brussels Philharmonic closes quietly with a lyrical ‘Beautiful Dreamer’.

As one would expect the concert with the Umbria Jazz Orchestra has a looser feel, and if the instrumentation might be more familiar for a jazz big band, once again Gibbs keeps a tight rein on proceedings. ‘Lookout For Hope’ for example is another arrangement that burns on a low heat, and ‘Strange Meeting’ again inhabits a brooding introduction for the orchestra before ultimately lightening the mood becoming more lyrical, yet retaining a tautness that grounds the music.

‘Doom’ and ‘Electricity’ that were heard on Disc 1 are given very different reading with the Umbria Jazz Orchestra, and while ‘Doom’ falls a little flat this time around, ‘Electricity’ has a lively feel with the band suggesting that they may just like to cut loose on this number.

Frisell’s ‘Monica Jane’ is given a thoughtful rendition with the focus firmly on the trio and Gibbs’s writing for the horns held back and subdued, while the set closes with a quietly rousing ‘We Shall Overcome’.

This is an album that is packed with detail, and nothing rushes out to grab the attention. In his writing for Frisell and the two orchestras, Mike Gibbs has looked to find a way to frame the guitarist’s lyrical side and done so with music that does not overwhelm, but gradually reveals itself with familiarity. A recording to return to and savour.