Is there an artist as well-suited to record an album inspired by Big Sur as Bill Frisell? Having spent much of his long career working a fertile seam in the jazz world that shares ground with Americana and folk, Frisell and his often twang-dusted tone seems tailor-made for sweeping vistas and pastoral wonders.
Stemming from a 2012 commission by the Monterey Jazz Festival, “Big Sur” is the result of Frisell holing himself up in a cabin at the 860-acre Glen Deven Ranch and writing music for wherever this natural muse took him.
Recorded with a blend of the guitarist’s most recent projects in the string-laden 858 Quartet and drummer for his Beautiful Dreamers trio Rudy Royston, the resulting 19-track suite approaches a lush, near-orchestral sweep on the strength of violist Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts and Jenny Scheinman on violin.
At times, parts of Frisell’s compositions recall some the rustic grandeur of Aaron Copland, such as on the churning “Hawks,” while “Gather Good Things” develops with a more atmospheric bent before yielding to a swirling blend of strings and Frisell’s effects-shaded tone. The band dips into a loping sort of surf-rock on “The Big One,” while other longer pieces such as “Walking Stick (for Jim Cox)” and “A Beautiful View” hint more toward Frisell’s off-kilter take on Western swing.
It all sounds entirely of Bill Frisell’s unique world, yet still like a previously undiscovered land that sounds well worth a visit.