Crossposted from http://www.birdistheworm.com/.
The last time Bill Frisell recorded an album with the 858 ensemble, things were a bit noisier. The 2002 recording Richter 858 had Frisell substituting jet engines for amps, and let the compositions not so much speak for themselves as growl and roar. Sign of Life shows that there was a heartbeat just behind all the fury and fuel of Richter 858.
Different sound; same ensemble. Bill brings his incomparable voice on guitar, and long-time collaborators Jenny Scheinman on violin, Hank Roberts on cello, and Eyvind Kang on viola.
As with any inventive musician, Frisell’s sound has evolved over the years. His current phase is often referred to as Americana Jazz, a blending of jazz aspirations and conventions within a folk framework. Sign of Life fits snugly into that label, comparable to other recent releases like the excellent Disfarmer, the perfectly acceptable Beautiful Dreamer, and the under-the-radar All Hat. It’s an album of languid back porch tunes, of foreboding compositions echoing over desolate Appalachian trails, of lush stringed instruments that is alternatingly soothing, threatening, and transcendent.