Bainbridge Island, Wash., resident Bill Frisell is a jazz guitar legend. First earning his stripes as the go-to, in-house guitar player for ECM, the notable independent jazz label, Frisell has 35 albums and numerous distinctions to his name. Spin declared Frisell “the Clark Kent of the electric guitar,” noting that while normally “soft-spoken and self-effacing in conversation, he apparently breathes in lungfuls of raw fire when he straps on his guitar.”
When you listen to Frisell, it doesn’t come off as jazz. And while the improvisation displayed by Frisell—both on record and in person—assures the listener that he is playing jazz, the uncategorizable nature of his music is really what sets him apart. That and Frisell really is just that incredible on the guitar.
For more than 30 years, Frisell has brought innovation to progressive rock, country and classical music, bluegrass, noise and more. And now with his most recent album, Frisell has brought his guitar to the Space Age.
Guitar in the Space Age! is actually not composed of lasers, robots, the mashing of gears or any of the others sounds one might intuitively associate with the term “Space Age.” Instead, Space Age here refers to the time of the late ‘50s and early-to-mid ‘60s when American optimism about its future and, by extension, space exploration was at its highest point. A time before the Vietnam War, before the utilitarianism of 1970s design, before The Beatles—a time of surf rock.
Released this past October, Guitar in the Space Age! is an amalgam of surf rock and vintage Nashville tones. Gentle on the ears, it doesn’t make the listener strain oneself to appreciate it. Instead, the music is amorphic—able to command front and center when blasted in the car, but just as easily able to fade into the background when sipping beers while barbecuing in the backyard with friends.
In the videos of Frisell performing the album live, along with collaborators Greg Leisz (pedal steel, electric guitar), Tony Scherr (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums, percussion), you become ensconced in the feeling of optimism that radiated throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, a zeal personified by Kennedy’s “we choose to go to the moon” speech.
Now, Portlanders who lived through the Space Age will get to go back, while Portlanders who’ve never experienced that level of hopefulness will be wrapped up in its blanket—if only for a moment—when Bill Frisell takes center stage on Friday, January 30 at the Aladdin Theater.