Bill Frisell's Sign of Life

Bill Frisell's Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz) is one of the most gorgeous new albums I've heard in a while. It's in the tradition of his "Americana" albums (Disfarmer; History, Mystery; Ghost Town; Gone, Just Like a Train; This Land), but here he burrows deeper into the roots. There are traces of folk, bluegrass, minimalism, western-blues, as well as certain modes and improvisational cadences of jazz.

The ensemble is the 858 Quartet (Frisell on guitar; Jenny Scheinman, violin; Eyvind Kang, viola; Hank Roberts, cello), first formed (and last recorded) five years ago, to accompany a museum exhibition of Gerhard Richter's new paintings, which the German artist called the "858 series." That CD came close to capturing Richter's eerie synthesis of pastoral lyricism and steely abstraction, but may have more persuasively shown that some visual artworks can't be translated in aural forms.

Frisell composed the new album—all 17 tracks—at the Vermont Studio Center, where his wife, the playful abstract painter Carole d'Inverno, was on a month-long retreat. The liner notes quote John Cage and others on the blessings of silence, of a pause from daily industry, and there is a hushed awe about Sign of Life, an expression of intense calm.

The musicians are top-notch, in fine form, and the sound—produced by Lee Townsend, engineered by Adam Munez, mastered by Greg Calbi—is stunningly vivid.

WillWeber's picture

Hi Fred,

I really like Richter 858, and will get this one ASAP. Thanks for the tip!

Just heard the track prevues. This one is more accessible, and melodic for sure, but some of the tonal textures are complex as well. Quite lovely.

(wish it were on SACD or vinyl)