Guitarist Bill Frisell speaks with long pauses between thoughts. His delivery is slow, with a sense of wonder, and then, all of a sudden, bursts of brilliance pour out right at the time you think he's completely lost. It's a lot like his playing, where he keeps you on your toes while you're comfortably relaxed.
It didn't come as a surprise when he told me he has friends who are cartoonists and animators, and that he feels they share similar instincts. He's a musician with such a vivid imagination. His playing stretches and bends the parameters of form, at times feeling dreamlike with its great sense of shape, space and distance. And at the same time, he still manages to express the most human qualities of music, digging deep into the soul and saying something that has a lasting emotional resonance.
It also came as no surprise when he told me there's nothing quite like being in the midst of making music, and how everything can change with one note. I used to think that it took only one note to know you're listening to Frisell, but maybe to really know Frisell is to hear the space between one note to the next.
He can paint a picture with just one note, and he can say a thousand words with the space between that note and the next. Frisell achieved, a long time ago, what most musicians strive for: having your own voice on your instrument. I've often heard him both praised and criticized for that in the same breath. Yes, in one note you know it's him, but maybe it's too much "Bill."
His new double album, History, Mystery, brilliantly refutes that notion. From the string arrangements to the chemistry of the band, this is an hour and a half of Frisell breaking new ground both in composition and in sound. And that's his way: If you look at Frisell's body of work over the past five years -- The Intercontinentals, Unspeakable, East/West, Floratone, as well as his trio album with Ron Carter and Paul Motian -- you hear a musician who is strongly evolving and continuously expanding his sound environment.

Congratulations on the new record‚ History‚ Mystery.
Oh‚ thanks.
I had a great experience listening to it the other day‚ with headphones on. Without knowing the names of the tracks‚ there was one that made me stop and look. It was such an interesting arrangement -- not only were the sounds you were using really unique‚ but everything sounded like different distances apart. Like there would be a sound far off and one that's really close in the mix. It felt like a wonderful manipulation of space. Then it came together and it almost sounded like you guys were bouncing on water. So‚ I looked at the track and it's called "Out of Body." [laughs]
Oh‚ cool!
Really cool stuff. But I just thought‚ How appropriate.
Well‚ that's great. Yeah‚ I'm really excited with this one because it seemed like a long time coming together for this album‚ so I'm sort of more excited about this than usual. I'm just glad it's out there.
There's a lot of music on there. It seems like you were working with a lot of themes.
Well‚ for one thing‚ it happened over a long period of time. I mean the writing of the music‚ anyway‚ was over a few years. It wasn't just like stuck together at the last minute‚ which a lot of times is what I do. [laughs] Also‚ all the people I had played with a lot‚ just as a trio with Tony [Scherr‚ bass] and Kenny [Wollesen‚ drums]. And then I played a lot with a quintet with Tony and Kenny and Ron [Miles‚ cornet] and Greg [Tardy‚ clarnet and tenor sax]. And then I played with the strings just individually. And then I'd played with Tony and Kenny and the strings. You know‚ there'd be all these different combinations of all those people that we played with over the last -- I don't know -- five years or something. And then for this thing‚ it was sort of sticking it all together. And then we did something like four or five gigs that most of the music was recorded then‚ so there was a lot of stuff to choose from. So it ended up being‚ "I hope it's not too much for one record." [laughs] But I couldn't resist sticking it all on there‚ you know?
Yeah. Well‚ I think it flows wonderfully‚ too‚ considering it's both studio and live tracks.
Yeah. Then right at the time we were kind of editing it and putting it together‚ I did this radio show thing with just the strings‚ which are still the same guys that were on there. And somehow it all seemed to be in the same zone. So it just seemed like I had to put some of that in there‚ too. And it kind of helped tie the live stuff together in a way. I hope‚ anyway.
Well‚ what do you think about it now? What do you think it says?
Oh‚ boy. I don't know what it says! [laughter] I mean‚ with music I don't know‚ whenever I have to explain what it is or what it does it's … you know‚ words … I think the reason I play music is because I can't talk about it.