Bill Frisell has made 14 sideman appearances on ECM but only three records as a leader on the label. His Rarum collection spans the 1980s, highlighting his earlier years. Paul Motian figures prominently in this story, as leader, composer, and sideman; "Mandeville," the leadoff track, is from 1981's Psalm, featuring Motian and Frisell with Joe Lovano, Billy Drewes, and Ed Schuller. Two more Motian tracks follow, then Jan Garbarek's "Singsong," which finds Frisell wailing. Tracks five through 11 feature Frisell as leader and composer: First there's the title cut from his 1982 debut, In Line, a multi-tracked acoustic piece, then three selections from Rambler and three more from Lookout for Hope. The transition from the wacky, banjo-driven "Hangdog" to Kenny Wheeler's "Kind of Gentle" is jarring, but no matter. Nearly a decade separates these two pieces, and it's interesting to hear Frisell, by the mid-'90s, favoring a clean, unprocessed tone (indicative, perhaps, of his growing interest in country music). After offering a quick peek at the 1986 Paul Bley Quartet (in which Motian reappears), Frisell closes with a brilliant stroke: a piece that doesn't feature him at all. Bassist Gavin Bryars wrote "Sub Rosa," from a 1993 disc called Vita Nova, in honor of Frisell. Playing the gorgeous, quasi-classical work is an ensemble of recorder, clarinet, violin, vibraphone, piano, and bass. "I sometimes have dreams of music like this," writes Frisell in his comically self-effacing liner notes.
Selected Recordings (Rarum V) Review
by David R. Adler