All We Are Saying is Bill Frisell's third album for Savoy in 13 months. Since August of 2010, the guitarist has released Beautiful Dreamers, Sign of Life, and now this one. In addition, he collaborated on the duet recording Lagrimas Mexicanas with Brazilian guitarist Vinicius Cantuaria on Naive Jazz, released earlier this year. All We Are Saying is a full-length offering of Frisell's interpretations of John Lennon's music. Frisell's quintet includes violinist Jenny Scheinman, pedal steel and acoustic guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Almost none of these 16 tunes are radical reinterpretations of Lennon's songs; most stick close to the original melodies even at their most adventurous. While there are obvious attempts at rock due to the root material -- "Revolution" and "Come Together" most notably -- this isn't a rock album per se, nor is it a noodling jazz record; it's much more slippery than either. Opener "Across the Universe," with its twinning of Frisell's electric guitar and Leisz's pedal steel as Scheinman's violin picks up the lyric melody and extrapolates its harmonic aspects, is indicative of the recording's M.O., offering a close examination of Lennon the composer. The interplay between the three principals is remarkable, such as on the intro to "Nowhere Man," where Scheinman's ostinato tenses up in advance of the changes, and Leisz grounds her fluidly while Frisell pulls his lower strings to wind up, allowing the track to begin then flow into more open areas without losing sight of the melody. Sometimes it doesn't work. "Hold On" is such a ghostly sketch it's hardly there at all. "Mother," with its dissonant opening guitar, is the bluesiest thing here; its much slower tempo only adds to this impression. "Beautiful Boy" dispenses with anything extraneous save for inserting a country stroll at its center; its pace is a bit quicker to boot. The album closes with "Give Peace a Chance." Frisell employs an array of effects in swirling, shimmering contrast with Leisz's swelling steel and Scheinman's droning violin. Scherr's languid bassline, and Wollesen's lack of an authoritative backbeat and slow tempo attempt psychedelia, but feel more like an opium dream. It's the only exception to the close-to-the-core feel of the the album, and it becomes something wholly other. All We Are Saying is a revealing listen to the side of Lennon that isn't examined closely -- or often -- enough. That said, as a whole, it feels a bit too laid-back, especially given its nearly 70-minute length.
All We Are Saying... Review
by Thom Jurek