It is hard to separate my review of this movie from my relationship with Bill Frisell. I first saw him play when I went to see Percy Jones’ Stone Tiger at the Bitter End in NYC. I loved Jones’ unique bass work with Brand X and was curious to see what he was up to. The great Dougie Bowne (Lounge Lizards, Iggy Pop) was on drums. The guitarist was some guy with an early Roland GR-300 synth guitar whose playing, both on synth and standard guitar, was like nothing I had ever heard. Alternately lyrical and jagged, his Thelonious Monk-like flights of invention were like Monk only in that they were completely personal and otherworldly. Not since seeing Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck in the Sixties had I witnessed someone who seemed to totally reinvent the instrument in their own image.
There were many terrific records in 2017. In another year, Charlie Rauh’s Viriditas, Dan Phelps’ Arc, and Rights by Manuel Troller’s band Schnellertollermeier might have fit on my “Best of…” list. But this year saw so many releases by modern guitar superstars that I just have to recommend reserving some money to also pick up their worthy efforts.
This list is mine; feel free to list yours in the comment section.
I discovered Harry Pepl’s unique guitar approach on the Enrico Rava/Dino Saluzzi record Volver [ECM] in 1986 (a must listen). His chorused sound and fluidity were reminiscent of Metheny, but his attack was harder and his sensibility was decidedly more “out.” I loved it and searched the ECM site for more records with his playing on them. I found Cracked Mirrors, his outing with Herbert Joos and John Christiansen, but to my dismay it was only available in Europe. Now, thanks to the glorious fact that (almost) the entire ECM catalog is available for streaming, I am able to experience that record. Unfortunately, ECM has not seen fit to make Werner Pirchner, Harry Pepl, Jack DeJohnette available for some reason (though it is available on YouTube). There are other Pepl recordings to be found on both Spotify and Apple Music. Check out “Cracked Mirror” to hear how his playing in 1988 sounds fresh even today.
Chicago is too often overlooked as a center for jazz and other improvised music. The fact that Dan Phillips has chosen to make this Midwest city his base of operations has done nothing to hamper his music. Having gathered a coterie of like minds, he records and plays live with multiple projects in the Windy City. Throughout these various ensembles, his co-designed custom instrument affords him that most valuable of assets, a distinctive sound, which draws you into his music wherever he chooses to take it.