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  • Unspeakable
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21 customer reviews

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Audio CD, August 24, 2004
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

On Unspeakable, guitarist Bill Frisell and producer Hal Willner (Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed) take a freewheelings, idiosyncratic approach to the modern art of music sampling, in a groove-and-soul based project. Frisell and Willner employ often obscure songs and sounds culled from vintage vinyl as the jumping off-point for their own sonic explorations, with choice fragments borrowed and integrated into original compositions. Unspeakable can have a fierce and infectious groove at times, and at others will adopt a more relaxed and reflective feel.

Stylistic shifts are nothing new in the career of Bill Frisell, who changes musical directions more often than Madonna. In fact, he even covered a Madonna song once. Unspeakable continues that tendency as Frisell teams up with Hal Willner, a willful musical eclectic. The two have worked together on collaborative projects including tributes to Nino Rota, Walt Disney, and Charles Mingus. Willner, who is also the turntabulist here, orchestrates a landscape of turntable spins and space jams using generic library production discs for much of his source material. '60s Dragnet jazz horns and orchestral Twilight Zone stylings lend the modern sound of Unspeakable a strangely nostalgic hue. Frisell finds himself in a landscape of Ligeti-like strings, bongo percolations, and Ghanian tribal calls, most of it super-charged by the rhythm team of bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Their funky beats lay the terrain for Frisell's angular crossfire solos, but he can also wax sweetly nostalgic on "Hymn for Ginsberg" for guitar and string trio. Bill Frisell is filed in jazz, but he continues to be a genre unto himself. --John Diliberto

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
  1. 1968 4:36$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. White Fang 5:39$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Sundust 2:37$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Del Close 5:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Gregory C. 5:38$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Stringbean 5:57$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Hymn for Ginsberg 2:25$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Alias 7:56$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Who Was That Girl? 4:50$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. D. Sharpe 4:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Fields of Alfalfa 3:38$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Tony 3:37$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Old Sugar Bear 7:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Goodbye Goodbye Godbye 8:59$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (August 24, 2004)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B0002JP4IC
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,879 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Troy Collins on September 4, 2004
Format: Audio CD
"Unspeakable" features jazz guitarist Bill Frisell's boldest playing since his early 1990's records for Elektra. Once a member of John Zorn's infamous jazz punk band Naked City, Frisell was at one time capable of coaxing delicate Jim Hall-esque melodies out of his axe as easily as flooding your speakers with a wall of distortion and looped feedback.

His recent output, as many fans know has devolved into NPR friendly "Americana", devoid of the sort of musical risk taking that characterized his earlier output. It is important to note that these records were all produced by Lee Townsend and this particular album is his first in years with a different producer. Hal Willner and Bill Frisell have a long history of collaboration behind them, including all those fantastic tribute albums from the early 1990's, i.e: "Stay Awake," "Meditations on Mingus," "Amarcord Nina Rota." So it is no great surprise they are working together again. What is surprising however are the results of this union.

Although Frisell has once again delved into the grittier and more expressive side of his playing on this disc, he also seems somewhat held back by a constrained rhythm section, and that is where my conflict with this record lies. Bassist Tony Scherr (Sex Mob) and Drummer Kenny Wollesen (Sex Mob, Masada, numerous downtown ensembles) are fantastic players, why they have been relegated to lock step grooves and machine like 1-2-3-4 rhythms is beyond me. They are capable of so much more than this. The amazing telepathic rhythm section interplay once found on Frisell's records with Joey Baron and Kermit Driscoll is nowhere in evidence on this disc.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By M. White on September 3, 2004
Format: Audio CD
I first heard Bill Frisell back in 1986 and have never been disappointed with his musical choices ever since. Quite simply, he is the most talented, creative, and visionary guitarist that is putting out music today. The magic in Frisell's playing is not always in what he plays, but in what he chooses not to play. Too many guitarists, especially in the jazz realm, play way too many notes and seem to think that every space needs to be filled in a song. They don't seem to realize that an occasional open space actually enhances a composition and has a tension and a dynamic quality all its own. On "Unspeakable", Frisell's playing is more sophisticated than ever and his arrangements for strings are refined and fit perfectly within the song structures he has composed. Hal Willner's use of samples and turntables is creative and innovative. This is another winning collaboration for Frisell. The rhythm section of Tony Scherr (Bass) and Kenny Wollesen (Drums) set up groves that any guitarist or instrumental soloist would salivate over. The great Don Alias (Of Weather Report and Joni Mitchell fame) offers wonderful percussion performances throughout. Again, Frisell releases a piece of work which is very much his own, defying genre. I've only had the CD for two days, but so far my favorite tracks are: 1968, White Fang, Del Close, Alias, Who Was That Girl, Fields of Alfalfa, Tony, and Old Sugar Bear. Listen to him really dig in at around the 5-minute mark of "Old Sugar Bear." This is a must have for real guitar fans. This CD has everything from Jazz to Acid Funk, House Beats to Country and Classical Voicings. Also, for anyone who enjoys listening to music that is the sum of all of its parts, not just one instrument, this is a CD you would enjoy.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By SuperHero on November 2, 2004
Format: Audio CD
I own several of Bill Frisell's discs and although he continues to reinvent himself with each disc, his sound became a little too predictable for me over the past few years. With that said, I approached "Unspeakable" with some skepticism. Would this be something I've heard before?

Simply, no. There is a depth and soul to this disc that was either missing or hidden to me on other recent discs. The strings themselves add a complex layer to the inspired playing by Frisell. Delays, loops and turntables add a funky flare that compliment the distorted guitar tones perfectly.

Don't be scared off if you are a fan of releases like "Blues Dream" and "Gone, Just Like a Train". You'll still hear Frisell's own Americana style here - just with a funk and soul flavor that will have you saying Wow!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By It's Me, on August 25, 2004
Format: Audio CD
I like this album a lot. While it's not a complete triumph like "Gone Just Like a Train" it does have a nice blend of tempos and is a more varied listen than was "The Willies" or "The Intercontinentals." Frisell's playing here is the most rhythmic I've heard from him since the Naked City days, although it is not nearly that noisy. This has probably the best integration of samples into what is very organic-sounding music. Hal Willner is to be commended. Those who enjoy this recording will find it similar to the excellent "My Lab" album by Tucker Martine and Wayne Horvitz and also featured Frisell on many tracks.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Chris Holmes on August 29, 2004
Format: Audio CD
A totally rocking album, confirming yet again - as if needed -

Frisell's joyous unpredictability and sure-footedness in whichever new direction he chooses to explore and charm us next.

The line-up looks potty - strings, horns, turntable, synth - but by track 3 you're wishing they'd tossed in the Hipperholme Male Voice Choir.

The 14 generous tracks all drive to an exotic hypnotic beat, for which props to Kenny Wolleson (drms), Tony Scherr (bass) and Don Alias (percuss). I fully expect to hear NPR grabbing chunks of this gem for their expert musical links.

The day I bought the bizarrely named - and equally off-putting jacketed - 'Unspeakable', I was chauffeuring four fellow wedding guests on a 2-hr each way run, and we actually detoured en route for each to buy their own copy - an extra as prezzie for the discerning groom, and a dupe for me for the car. Typical Bill to additionally score a musical Michelin vaut-le-detour star.

What better closing note to this well-meant but inadequate rave than to cite the savvy NY Times'reminder that, "The Paul Motian-Joe Lovano-Bill Frisell trio has been around for 20 years, and it's remarkable that a group whose three members do so many other things has held together.

Each has a history and discography a mile long, and they're all at their freest in this group."
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