Bill Frisell, Four Review
by Icrom Bigrad
Four is Bill Frisell’s third release on Blue Note records, which was released on November 11, 2022. Joining the guitarists is Gregory Tardy: tenor saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet; Gerald Clayton: piano; and Johnathan Blake: drums. Frisell decided to record a bassless album to promote a spontaneous, cooperative orchestration between the musicians. Frisell says, “Without a bass, it was a little scary, but I wasn’t thinking so much about the instruments. It’s always more about the chemical reaction that’s going to happen.”
“Claude Utley” is a vivid example of the chemical reaction Frisell speaks about between the ensemble members. The song is dedicated to the Seattle painter that passed away in 2021. Clayton and Blake open the song with a conversational introduction. Clayton’s voicings and voice-leading are very enjoyable. Next, Frisell and Tardy enter, and together the four musicians create a dense field of moving parts. Blake is the highlight of this selection, as his drumming has many shades of movements and dynamics. As for the pitched instruments, the mid-range is very dense with activity and harmonic structures, sometimes obscuring the focus of the individual parts.
“Holiday” again shows Blake’s creative drumming style as he opens the Thelonious Monk-inspired melody. Frisell and Clayton keep a curious conversation going as Blake continues to anchor the groove. Tardy eventually enters with his saxophone, and the chemical reaction of the quartet heats up to some of the finest moments on the album.
Four does achieve many moments of musical interactions between the quartet. Frisell’s language of folk and country with elements of jazz maintains its strengths, especially for his existing fans. Blake and Clayton have the project’s backbone and provide the highest degrees of universal appeal. Four is another documentation of the many settings Frisell creates to express himself in, and if his style of improvisation fits your fancy, this album will bring another collection of tunes for your enjoyment. Will Four bring in new fans? I found that after one listen, I longed for something that had a deep groove and centered around more idiomatic rhythms, forms, and instrument roles. I also missed the bass and heard too much mid-range crowding between the piano and guitar.