"It's hard to find a more fruitful meditation on American music than in the compositions of guitarist Bill Frisell. Mixing rock and country with jazz and blues, he's found what connects them: improvisation and a sense of play. Unlike other pastichists, who tend to duck passion, Mr. Frisell plays up the pleasure in the music and also takes on another often- avoided subject, tenderness." - The New York Times
"Frisell is a revered figure among musicians - like Miles Davis and few others, his signature is built from pure sound and inflection; an anti-technique that is instantly identifiable." - The Philadelphia Inquirer
"I like to have fun when I play and I like comedy - but it's not a conscious thing. I'm basically a pretty shy person and I don't dance or get into fights. But there are all these things inside me that get out when I perform. It's like a real world when I play, where I can do all the things I can't do in real life." - Bill Frisell to The Village Voice
Over the years, Frisell has contributed to the work of such collaborators as Paul Motian, John Zorn, Elvis Costello, Ginger Baker, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright III, Van Dyke Parks, Vic Chesnutt, Rickie, Lee Jones, Ron Sexsmith, Vinicius Cantuaria, Marc Johnson (in "Bass Desires"), Ronald Shannon Jackson and Melvin Gibbs (in "Power Tools"), Marianne Faithful, John Scofield, Jan Garbarek, Lyle Mays, Vernon Reid, Julius Hemphill, Paul Bley, Wayne Horvitz, Hal Willner, Robin Holcomb, Rinde Eckert, The Frankfurt Ballet, film director Gus Van Sant, David Sanborn, David Sylvian, Petra Haden and numerous others, including Bono, Brian Eno, Jon Hassell and Daniel Lanois on the soundtrack for Wim Wenders’ film Million Dollar Hotel.
This work has established Frisell as one of the most sought-after guitar voices in contemporary music. The breadth of such performing and recording situations is a testament not only to his singular guitar conception, but his musical versatility as well. This, however, is old news by now. In recent years, it is Frisell's role as composer and band leader which has garnered him increasing notoriety.
"For over ten years Bill Frisell has quietly been the most brilliant and unique voice to come along in jazz
guitar since Wes Montgomery. In light of this, it may be easy to overlook the fact that he may also be one of the most promising composers of American music on the current scene." - Stereophile
"Bill Frisell is the Clark Kent of the electric guitar. Soft-spoken and self-effacing in conversation, he apparently breathes in lungfuls of raw fire when he straps on his (guitar)...His music is not what is typically called jazz, though it turns on improvisation; it's not rock'n roll; and it sure ain't that tired dinosaur called fusion. In one of the biggest leaps of imagination since the Yardbirds and Jimi Hendrix, Frisell coaxes and slams his hovering split-toned ax into shapes of things to come...But besides being a guitar genius, he's turned into a terrific songwriter. Like Monk, Frisell's harmonic and melodic ideas form a succinct, seamless mesh with outer sonic and rhythmic ideas about his ax." - Spin
"Frisell just has a knack for coaxing the most inviting sounds out of the instrument, and the composition skills to put them in just the right order. Combine a Colorado youth given to soul and C&W with solid jazz training, abetted by a decade-long residency in the heart of NYC's avant scene, multiplied by a fun factor of X (he has scored Buster Keaton's films) and you've got a recipe damn near perfection." - The Mirror
Wire, the British music publication has observed: "What's really distinctive is Frisell's feel for the shape of songs, for their architecture; it's a virtuosity of deep structure rather than surface." Bill explains this sensibility to Guitar Player, "For me, it's really important to keep the melody going all the time, whether you are actually playing it or not, especially when it's some kind of standard tune or familiar song form. A lot of people play the melody and rush right into their solo, almost with an attitude of 'Whew - that's out of the way, now let's really play!' Then they just burn on chord changes, and it doesn't relate to the song anymore. I like to keep that melody going. When you hear Thelonious Monk's piano playing - or horn players like Ben Webster, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter - you always hear the melody in there. Sonny Rollins is the classic example of that - I've read that he thinks of the words while he's playing the sax, so the song really means something to him. It's not just an excuse to play a bunch of licks over chord changes."
Much has been made of the uncategorizable nature of Frisell's music and the seamlessness with which his bands have navigated such a variety of styles. "Frisell's pals just happen to be superb musical chameleons, up to every change of gears and genre the guitarist's catch-all music throws at them. The band even comfortably follows the leader
onto Country and Western turf, as Frisell often approximates the whine of a lonely steel guitar." (Minneapolis Star Tribune). Bill's comments to the same publication: "When I was in Colorado, I never really played that country stuff or even liked it that much, though it was all over the radio. But as I got older, it crept into my music a lot." In fact, the Chicago Tribune observed that "Frisell possesses not only impressive compositional skills but also a remarkable ability to encompass seemingly antagonistic musical genres." Commenting on his eclectic compositional inclinations, Frisell told Down Beat: "When I write something, it just sort of comes out. I'm not thinking, 'Now I'm going to write a cowboy song'. It just happens, then I usually think about what must have influenced it later. When I sit down to write something in a certain style, it doesn't work. I don't know if that's important or something I need to do, or if it doesn't matter. I don't care; I'm just thankful something comes out sometimes."
This musical kinship with Miles Davis has been cited repeatedly in the music press. The New Yorker notes: "Bill Frisell plays the guitar like Miles Davis played the trumpet: in the hands of such radical thinkers, their instruments simply become different animals. And, like Davis, Frisell loves to have a lot of legroom when he improvises--the space that terrifies others quickens his blood."
On this subject Down Beat has noted: "With his respectful if improbable eclecticism and audible ethnic guitar roots, Frisell is the new music's Ry Cooder...His engagingly droll sense of humor is never far from the surface; no one else's persistent dissonances sound so consistently congenial."
Sometimes using delays and distortion and an unmistakably unique touch, Frisell, as Jazz Times once observed "has an airbrushed attack, a stunning timbral palette and a seemingly innate inability to produce a gratuitous note." Musician has described his guitar style as "modern in the best sense of the word, straddling the electronic ambiance and distortion of contemporary rock and the nuances of touch and harmonic sophistication usually associated with jazz." The guitarist won the 1990 Down Beat critics' poll.