Bill Frisell: RICHTER 858
Songlines SGL SA1551-2
Bill Frisell (guitars & electronics)
Hank Roberts (cello)
Jenny Scheinman (violin)
Eyvind Kang (viola)
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Review by Mark Werlin - February 8, 2024
Restlessly creative guitarist Bill Frisell leads a hybrid string ensemble with noted improvisers Hank Roberts, Jenny Scheinman, and Eyvind Kang, in pieces inspired by the paintings of Gerhard Richter.
In the early 2000s, several jazz player-composers wrote and recorded new works that traced thematic links between the realms of improvising music and nonrepresentational visual art. Among these ambitious projects were saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom’s “Chasing Paint” (inspired by Jackson Pollock), drummer-composer Bobby Previte’s “The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró”, and guitarist Bill Frisell’s “Richter 858”. It’s not surprising that musicians based in or near New York City, one of the world’s great art meccas, would find inspiration in the works of American abstract expressionists and European modernist painters.
David Breskin, who produced “Richter 858” and “The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró”, describes the analogies between Frisell’s guitar playing and Richter’s painting:
“What Richter does with paint in these abstractions Frisell does with sound: he shapes it, he torques it, he inverts it — he reverses it in time… He uses all these signal-processing devices to take his original sound and transform it.”
A string quartet in classical music generally consists of two violins, viola and cello. Frisell, playing electric guitar with effects and processing, occupies the chair normally held by a second violinist, but he doesn’t use the string quartet in a conventional way. Cellist Hank Roberts, who has collaborated with Frisell on many of his albums, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and violist Eyvind Kang are all active in circles of free improvisation. In the eight pieces on “Richter 858” there are composed passages and spaces for improvisation. The sounds that Frisell produces on his electric guitar within a bowed strings configuration offers a musical counterpart to the gestures of Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings, with their bold horizontal swathes of color.
On Track 2, “858-3” (all of the tracks are titled as numbered references to the paintings), the bowed string trio introduces a slow, tentative waltz-time melody; Frisell adds chiming, plucked guitar phrases that gradually mutates into a distortion-laden overlay, in contrast to the gentle tones of the bowed instruments. In “858-4”, the longest track on the album, a mysterious, time-suspended melody is played by the trio over Frisell’s haunting, effects-laden guitar soundscapes. “858-5”, by contrast, has a bouncy, circus march-like quality. The music shifts the ground under the listener, just as the paintings challenge the viewer to consider their meaning. Producer Breskin writes in the album liner notes:
“What is background in these paintings? What is foreground? How do these ideas work in the invisible world of music?”
“Richter 858” was recorded live in the studio to two-track, 1” 30 ips analogue tape by Joe Ferla, and mastered for DSD by Joe Gastwirt. Sound quality of the album is vivid and the perspective is similar to what an audience would hear in a mid-sized concert space.
The slideshow of Gerhard Richter paintings that was included with the Songlines SACD can be viewed on YouTube in 720p: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anS5KrxE0Ig
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Copyright © 2024 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net