Nonesuch Releases Bill Frisell's Unspeakable: a Collaboration with Producer Hal Willner

Celebrated guitarist Bill Frisell’s nineteenth Nonesuch record, Unspeakable, will be released on August 24, 2004. The groove and soul-based collaboration with renowned producer Hal Willner takes a freewheeling, idiosyncratic approach to the modern art of music sampling. As a jumping-off point for the record, Frisell and Willner employed obscure songs and sounds culled from vintage vinyl records for their own sonic explorations, borrowing and integrating choice fragments into original compositions. Willner, Saturday Night Live’s music supervisor, scoured NBC’s well-stocked record library for inspiration. The pair sampled the ideas and/or moods from the various tracks Willner had unearthed; in most cases, Frisell elaborated on the original, creating new songs and often going in a totally different direction from the sample.
With Willner manning the turntables, Frisell is accompanied by frequent collaborators Tony Scherr (bass), Kenny Wollesen (drums), and Steven Bernstein (trumpet, horn arrangements). Don Alias and Adam Dorn are featured on percussion and synth, respectively. Frisell also wrote string arrangements, which are played by the 858 Strings: violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, and cellist Hank Roberts.

“Making this record with Hal was the fulfillment of a 20-plus year dream for me,” said Frisell. Early in their careers, Frisell and Willner collaborated on Willner’s groundbreaking 1981 multi-artist tribute to Nina Rota’s music for Fellini films. Although he had never heard the guitarist, Willner gave Frisell his first solo recording opportunity, based on a recommendation from a mutual friend—the drummer D. Sharpe, for whom a track on Unspeakable is named—on Amarcord Nino Rota. The pair crossed paths often over the next two decades, collaborating on Stay Awake, a record of Disney music, and Weird Nightmare, a tribute to Charles Mingus. Frisell also performed as part of the Willner-produced tribute concerts for Harry Smith and Randy Newman at UCLA.

Other Willner-produced records on which Frisell is featured include Marianne Faithful, Allen Ginsberg, David Sanborn, and Gavin Friday projects. The two also recorded music to accompany William Burroughs’s reading of Naked Lunch. More recently, they joined forces on the scores for Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester, as well as Wim Wenders’ Million Dollar Hotel with Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, and Bono. During the Hotel sessions, Willner heard Frisell playing dance music and got an idea for a unique joint venture, something the genre-bending Frisell had never recorded before. As Willner says, “We wanted to make a beautiful, fun record that still was a Bill Frisell record. I think we succeeded.”

In a career that spans more than 20 years and 100 recordings, guitarist, composer, and bandleader Bill Frisell has been hailed by The New York Times as “the most significant and widely imitated guitarist to emerge in jazz since the beginning of the 1980s.” Frisell’s Nonesuch discography comprises nineteen albums, primarily featuring his own compositions, and recently was cited by Downbeat as “the best recorded output of the decade.” Highlights include a solo guitar album, Ghost Town; two CDs of original scores for Buster Keaton films; Nashville, which was recorded with colleagues including mandolinist Adam Steffey and banjo player Ron Block, dobro great Jerry Douglas, and bassist Viktor Krauss; a trio recording with Elvin Jones and Dave Holland; and collaborations featuring Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz, and Krauss (Gone, Just Like a Train and Good Dog, Happy Man). His recorded works also include covers of music by Charles Ives, Stephen Foster, and Bob Dylan, among others. Frisell
and the Intercontinentals recently were nominated for a Grammy Award in the world music category for their 2003 Nonesuch recording The Intercontinentals.

In addition to his work as soloist and bandleader, Frisell has established himself as one of the most sought-after collaborators in contemporary music. He has worked with diverse artists such as Burt Bacharach, Ginger Baker, William S. Burroughs, Gavin Bryars, Ron Carter, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Frank Gorshin, Charlie Haden, Julius Hemphill, Fred Hersch, Robin Holcomb, Wayne Horvitz, Lee Konitz, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Rod McCuen, Paul Motian, David Sylvian, Laura Veirs, and John Zorn, among others.
Unspeakable Bill Frisell | Nonesuch Records  by John Kelman

Some artists spend an entire lifetime within a narrow genre, honing their skill and working at stretching the
boundaries of that style, while others transcend all definitions and labels, creating a music that defies categorization. Such is the case with guitarist Bill Frisell, who over a twenty-five year career has contributed to everything from the Nordic cool of Jan Garbarek's quartet to the downtown edge of John Zorn's Naked City. On his own records he has explored diverse landscapes including the urban sprawl of Before We Were Born and the American heartland of Good Dog, Happy Man.
Always the sum of his parts, Frisell has constantly managed to bring forward past experiences into new contexts, never more so than on his new release, Unspeakable, which finally teams him for a full album with producer Hal Willner, with whom Frisell has worked in the past on projects as varied as the Mingus project Weird Nightmare and Stay Awake, an album of Disney film music. The result is a recording that stretches the imagination farther than anything Frisell has done to date and defines him as an artist who has created a personal musical
landscape that is less about what is being played and more about what that playing evokes.
With a core group including long-time musical partners, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen, Frisell continues to explore rhythmic grooves. But with the addition of a three-piece string section, three-piece horn section, percussion and Hal Willner's turntables and samples, the textures available are richer than ever
before. Frisell builds rich layers of guitars, and continues to mine the "everyone solos and nobody solos" ground that has been the trademark of his work for many years. But collaborating with Willner has created a whole new level of sonics.
As a starting point for compositions that are sometimes Frisell's alone, but more often collaborative efforts with Willner and/or ecordings. Sometimes the compositions fit neatly within the context of the samples, other times Frisell digresses, moving things into completely unknown territory.
Frisell has always been an extremely visual writer and player, but his teaming with Willner has resulted in his most cinematic effort yet. Yes, there are elements of the Americana that has obsessed Frisell so over the past few years, on tracks including the tender "Goodbye Goodbye Goodbye," but equally present are the world
music concerns that have captured his attention in more recent times, on "1968," and the most manifest soul that Frisell has ever shown on "White Fang" and "Del Close."

That Frisell has chosen to use his guitar as a sonic paintbrush rather than a simple purveyor of chops means that there are those who will be disappointed; but for those who prefer their music to tell stories and create vivid images, Unspeakable is another high point in an already significant body of work.- Courtesy of
BILL FRISELL Unspeakable

Producer: Hal Willner
Label/Catalog Number: Nonesuch 79699
Release Date: Aug. 24
Source: Billboard Magazine
Originally Reviewed: August 28, 2004

Guitarist Bill Frisell's 19th Nonesuch release is a revisiting of an old friendship that stretches back 20 years: as with several previous Frisell projects, it's a partnership with producer Hal Willner (music supervisor for "Saturday Night Live"). Taking fragments of obscure vinyl records as a launching point, the duo traverses a landscape that passes, in an almost hallucinatory way, through myriad styles that tickle the pair's ears— a Brazilian rhythm here ("Del Close"), the fire of Afrobeat there ("Alias"), with a dash of '70s soul ("Who Was That Girl?"). A special pleasure is the lush yet piquant string arrangements, played by the 858 Strings (such as quasi-minimalist track "D. Sharpe," named after the twosome's mutual drummer friend). It will not come as a surprise to Frisell's legions of fans that this is an utterly gorgeous and captivating disc from haunting opening
track "1968" to elegiac closer "Goodbye Goodbye Goodbye."—AT
Jazz Guitarist Frisell Samples Vinyl for New Set
Sun Sep 12, 2004 04:36 PM ET

By Dan Ouellette
NEW YORK (Billboard) - You can't box Bill Frisell in.

Arguably the top jazz guitarist of the day and inarguably the most  emulated six-stringer by up-and-comers, the indefatigable Frisell has enjoyed immense critical acclaim while thoughtfully and whimsically following his intuition.

Beginning with his 1982 ECM Records debut "In Line," he has recorded jazz-fueled albums ranging from avant-rock to country to pastoral folk.

Now he has tossed up a new curve ball. "Unspeakable," released Aug. 24, is a thoroughly entertaining album of dance-friendly, sample-steeped songs. Produced by Hal Willner, who mans the turntables and triggers the samples, the CD is Frisell's 19th for Nonesuch Records.

After a series of quieter releases, Frisell gets funky yet atmospheric here and even revisits the rock snarl of earlier albums, especially on the soul-infused "White Fang." He enlists 858 Strings --the trio of Jenny
Scheinman (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola) and Hank Roberts (cello) -- as guest performers.

"This is something I've been wanting to do for 20 years with Hal," Frisell says, talking between sets at the Village Vanguard in New York. He was in the midst of a brilliant two-week stint of angular free-speech jazz in drummer Paul Motian's trio that also features saxophonist Joe Lovano.

"The first time I appeared on a recording was with Hal on his 1981 tribute to Nina Rota," he says. "Since then I've worked on more than 30 of his albums."

Frisell was visiting Nonesuch's New York offices when Willner was discussing the production of a new Laurie Anderson project with label president Robert Hurwitz.

"Bob asked me what my next record was going to be, but I told him I hadn't figured it out yet," Frisell recalls. "He suggested working with Hal, so that was cool."

Several years ago, Willner, as musical director of "Saturday Night Live," scooped up hundreds of obscure vinyl albums NBC was tossing from its music library. Frisell says sampling those discs became like a new instrument for Willner.

"When we started working on the project in L.A., Hal shipped out hundreds of those LPs and kept pulling them out as we tried to figure out how to collaborate," Frisell says. "We didn't begin with a plan but worked out a process of bringing the samples and my guitar together. Then toward the end I wrote the string parts. That's when I was able to say, 'Now it's my record.' "

Some of the unusual samples Frisell and Willner use include pieces of "Twisted Soul" by G. Koek and C. Brill, "Sound of Crickets" by Mac Gillar and "Shock Treatment Background No. 1" by Trevor Duncan.