The old saying you can’t judge a book by its cover certainly applies to the latest release by eclectic guitarist Bill Frisell on the Nonesuch label. The untitled recording (actually co-led by Frisell, pioneering bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Paul Motian), delivers an empathetic commentary on an expansive American musical landscape. What is pleasantly surprising (or perhaps reassuring) is that this is accomplished by the unlikely combination of Frisell and Carter which would seem, on paper anyway, to be a most unusual grouping of musical personalities. Frisell has built a career on the assimilation of country twang with the improvised spirit of jazz on the cutting edge. Carter, who first came to prominence as a member of the Miles Davis quintet during the 1960’s, has earned his rightful place in the jazz history books as both a leader of his own bands and one of the busiest sidemen that jazz has ever known. Although the pairing of two legendary musicians who both have distinctive sounds and seem to hang out on opposite ends of the jazz galaxy would seem unusual, listening to this music reveals the strikingly obvious similarities between two of the most influential jazz musicians of the last forty years.
The sympathetic interplay found throughout the discs ten tracks sustains a serene, yet uplifting sonic space that celebrates a diverse sampling of twentieth century Americana. Interpretations of "Raise Four" and "Misterioso" by Thelonius Monk and "I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry" by country legend Hank Williams fit in perfectly with the rather dark explorations of "You Are My Sunshine" and "Polly." The call and response interactions, most notably on the aforementioned "Raise Four," expose an invigorated Ron Carter that recalls the bassist’s successful outings with guitarist Jim Hall in the 1970’s. It is indeed Carter’s classic "Eighty-One," that opens things up and allows room for the trio to quickly get acquainted with one another and establishes a sense of open-ended camaraderie that subtly suggests a musical promise to the listener that is delivered right up to the last notes of the CD.