Bill Frisell: The Intercontinentals


Though Bill Frisell has one of the most recognizable individual styles among contemporary electric guitarists, he has made it a point to dramatically recontextualize his distinctive sound on every recent album. A veteran of the fertile New York City “downtown” music scene that spawned a variety of often noisy experimental jazz projects in the 1980s, the Seattle transplant deliberately slides along a musical spectrum that includes high-voltage electric jazz-rock, chamber-music-like arrangements for large and small ensembles with brass and reeds, and largely acoustic alternative takes on traditional country and bluegrass. His collaborators have included iconoclastic clarinetist Don Byron, jazz drumming giant Elvin Jones, guitarist Ry Cooder, banjo picker Danny Barnes, cartoonist Gary Larson (The Far Side), and rocker Elvis Costello.

The Intercontinentals is his widest-ranging project to date, featuring a global cast: Greek-Macedonian oud and bouzouki virtuoso Christos Govetas; Brazilian guitarist, percussionist, and singer Vinicius Cantuária; Malian percussionist-singer Sidiki Camara; and two Americans, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Greg Leisz on pedal steel and slide guitars.

Combining such diverse musical traditions and styles is risky business, since they can often get lost in the resulting blend. But what we have here is not world music lite; rather, it’s a successful transnational fusion forged with a wondrously light touch. It gives new meaning to the phrase “easy listening”: Although you can indeed play this CD as background music while you’re occupied with other matters, you can also immerse yourself in and concentrate fully on the melodies that flow effortlessly, the harmonies that intertwine gracefully, and the rhythms that percolate gently.

Frisell enhances the sensual and mostly acoustic mix with subtle electronic delays, distortions, and looping effects. He has always emphasized making connections in his music, and in the silken and diaphanous textures of these 14 tracks (composed by Frisell, Cantuária, Govetas, Malian guitarist Boubacar Traore, and Brazilian star Gilberto Gil), he makes the world a more intimate and comfortable place.

Contributing Editor Derk Richardson writes for Yoga Journal, Acoustic Guitar magazine, and SFGate ( He lives in Oakland, California, where he studies the Japanese movement practice shintaido.