Download Review ‘Bill Frisell,’ A Winning Portrait Of A Very Nice Guitarist

Title: Review ‘Bill Frisell,’ A Winning Portrait Of A Very Nice Guitarist
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Review ‘Bill Frisell,’ a Winning Portrait of a Very Nice Guitarist.
Bill Frisell, the genre-spanning guitarist, is such a busy musician these days that a new documentary about him doesn’t feature any archival footage from his long career until about an hour and 20 minutes into its nearly two-hour running time. Early on in “Bill Frisell: A Portrait,” Mr. Frisell, a quiet, diffident man, tells an off-camera interviewer that when he gets up in the morning, he picks up a guitar, starts playing “and then …” he drifts off. The suggestion is that he never stops.

Directed by Emma Franz, this project has clearly been in the works for a long time. Three of its interviewees, all music greats, have died in recent years: the jazz guitarist Jim Hall, also a teacher of Mr. Frisell’s; the remarkable drummer Paul Motian, with whom Mr. Frisell played in a groundbreaking jazz trio with Joe Lovano; and the wonderful, albeit widely misunderstood, guitarist John Abercrombie, who provides an interesting technical analysis of Mr. Frisell’s style and tone, among the most distinctive and recognizable in contemporary music.

I am a fervent fan of Mr. Frisell’s. I’ve been following his work since the mid-1980s; I’ve seen him perform live twice this year, and might try to catch one of his shows this weekend at Jazz Standard.

Nevertheless, there are several points in this movie — which I’m still recommending — that I found, if not boring, a little dry. In a sense, Mr. Frisell, 66, is an entirely atypical contemporary musician. As the impresario and record producer Hal Willner notes early in the documentary, despite Mr. Frisell’s having performed or recorded with literally hundreds of other top-flight players and troubadours, “there’s no one who has a bad word to say about him.” Being a “no drama” person is lovely, and it’s particularly salutary that Mr. Frisell upends the myth that the great artist needs to be full of anger, or to behave badly, to be inspired.

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