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Every week, we tell you about an album you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Valentine, the new album from legendary jazz guitarist Bill Frisell.
Not to get too much #TMI here, but the ever present crush of everything all the time has made it increasingly difficult for me to focus on much of anything, except flipping through TikTok or playing video games, and that’s only because those two experiences are fluid and brief. So it takes a lot for a new album to break through the noise, in other words, and I think we can all relate to that: It’s a hard time for new music to be dropping because we all have points to the entire earth this to worry about. But this week’s Album of the Week is an album that broke through the noise for me not because it’s some towering, mammoth, monocultural thing: instead it succeeds because it’s a relaxed, loving, virtuosic album that feels like someone telling you it’s OK to check out and disappear into yourself for a while. That album is Bill Frisell’s Valentine.
Frisell, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a prolific and renowned jazz guitarist, known for his deep catalog on experimental label ECM, and for roots-oriented labels like Nonesuch. He’s spent his career delightfully kicking the lines in the sand between country and jazz, Americana and blues, experimental and traditional, into smithereens, and Valentine, his new album on Blue Note is something he’s never done before. It’s a trio album, recorded with drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Thomas Morgan. A mix between Frisell originals, covers, and traditional songs, the album never insists itself upon you; instead, it’s content to flow like a creek in a bed.
Frisell’s guitar playing is known for its clean, searching leads, and you get too many of those to mention fully here. But on the title track especially, he throws out little bursts of obtuse angles, and clarion bell leads, and on the cover of Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love” he covers the choruses in a way that makes that song something entirely new: a psychedelic jazz searcher. The trio format leaves a lot of room for Frisell to do some of his finest pure guitar work, but Morgan and Royston push these compositions forward, the locomotive underneath Frisell’s bustling cars. The album’s finest moment is its final track, when Frisell and his trio take on “We Shall Overcome” as a bluesy denouement, a song perfect for these times, and one that can get your mind to wandering about everything. This album is a respite, and a life raft. Take it.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.