Down Beat Magazine's April 1998 Review of Bill Frisell's
Gone, Just Like a Train
It's time we stopped identifying Bill Frisell as a jazz guitarist. He still plays jazz as we know it from time to time, but Gone, Just like a Train confirms that he's invented and populated his own genre. Like last year's extraordinary Nashville release, this CD looks beyound jazz for inspiration. Over the years, Frisell has also plundered the idioms of blues, country, rock, and folk to develope a sort of musical esperanto. Call it American guitar music, for want of a better term. His guitar playing and writing have become inseparable. A Frisell guitar-riff may be unmistakeable, but also ambiguous and elusive.
Significantly, he's not working with jazz musicians this time out. For percussive support, Frisell employs longtime rock/pop drummer Jim Keltner, a veteran of sessions with Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, and John Hiatt, all explorers of American pop songs. Keltner contributes a steady foundation, percussive accents, and an unapologetic backbeat. From the Nashville CD, country & western and bluegrass bassist Viktor Krauss returns. On aggressive tracks like the dark, somewhat pensive "Blues For Los Angeles" and "Lookout For Hope," Keltner and Krauss quickly lock into a deep, relentless groove that propels Frisell's gritty, blues-inflected guitar lines. This new version of "Lookout For Hope" carries an undercurrent of malevolence that adds to the tension as the guitarist's solo progresses into a feral howl.
The versatility of the rhythm section provides a considerable advantage as the trio mixes and matches disparate musical elements. "Gone, Just Like a Train begins as a thoughtful quasi-tango, but culminates with the guitarist "rocking out" over a frat rock rhythm. Upbeat and bouncy, "Raccoon Cat" is a Frisell's tribute to rockabilly, while "Egg Radio" combines a reggae beat with a melody evocative of Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of my Tears."
What I like best about
Gone, Just Like a Train is the way that Bill Frisell creates, and entices the listener into, a distinctive musical world, at once strange and familar. A tune like the chipper, off-kilter "Pleased To Meet You" may be determinedly odd, but ingratiating all the same. (Just try to stop humming it.) Frisell's warm evocations of homespun Americana can't altogether be separated from a certain sourness or darkness. -John Andrews
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Four and 1/2 Stars
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