bill frisell

“There’s something profoundly joyful about Shakti and the spontaneity of it,” says guitarist John McLaughlin, seen here with the group at the beginning of their 50th-anniversary celebrations.

Photo by Pepe Gomes

The intrepid guitarist celebrates his long collaboration with master percussionist Zakir Hussain and reflects on the groundbreaking cross-cultural fusion group, his longest running ensemble, and their new studio record, This Moment.

A few years ago, John McLaughlin’s career hung in the balance. Stricken with painful arthritis in his right hand, the famously dexterous and ambitious guitarist couldn’t maintain his playing. So, he announced his retirement from live performing, offering a final tour in 2017. In Billboard, the guitarist glumly mused: “You know, musicians never die. They just decompose. So, I’m on my way.” Though he went on to mention planned recording projects, he now says, “I thought, ‘Time’s up,’ the guitar goes under the bed, and that’s it. I’m out.”

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The versatile Frisell says he uses the same approach when playing any genre: "I just try to get as deep

into the music as I can."

Photo by Monica Frisell

With his inventive touch, the prolific guitarist takes his latest musical exploration, Guitar in the Space Age, back to the future.

It's easy to forget how astonishing Bill Frisell's guitar style seemed when he arrived on the scene nearly four decades ago. Others had combined blues, country, or rock with jazz, but no one had yet synthesized them all—along with free improvisation, noise, and looping—into such a uniquely personal sound. Frisell was arguably the first electric guitarist to completely redefine the instrument since Jimi Hendrix.

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Frisell divulges the inner workings of this album, clues us in as to how he manages to juggle so many intense projects simultaneously, and tells us about the 16-second delay that got away.

For many of us, 6:50 a.m. on a Monday morning would probably be the last choice of times to schedule an interview. But for Grammy-winning guitarist and composer Bill Frisell, this criminally early time was his only opening in the midst of a whirlwind tour, so we jumped at the opportunity to chat while he was waiting to board a plane at Los Angeles International Airport.

As one of the most sought-after guitarists in a wide variety of styles, demand spreads him so thin he literally doesn’t have a second to spare. To give an idea, in a five-week span around the time of our interview, he debuted and conducted a score based on Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish (commissioned by and performed at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City), then flew out to Oregon the next day to lead three group projects—a quartet performing the music of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West, a quintet performing the music of John Lennon, and his 858 Quartet, which is most often set up as a string quartet, but with guitar replacing one of the two violins. He performed a solo concert over a twoevening run at the Portland Jazz Festival, and then a few days later headed to Japan to do concerts with Vinicius Cantuária. He returned to the States to tour the West Coast with his Beautiful Dreamers group (headlining a night at the L.A. Philharmonic), and then jumped over to the East Coast with folk singer Sam Amidon, while hitting points in between as a guest with the Dale Bruning Trio and performing music he’d cowritten for the 2012 film The Great Flood. In just over a month’s span, he’d taken on enough musical personalities to make Sybil the poster child for normalcy.

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