Rambler in Quarantine

When Bill Frisell answers my FaceTime beep, the amount of hair I see through the laptop screen is more significant than I was expecting. He’s been working on a quarantine beard, and he doesn’t seem entirely happy about it. “I don’t know, it’s terrible,” he confesses. “A couple of days into it, I didn’t shave and I just said, ‘Fuck it. No one’s going to see me.’ But then it seems like more people are seeing me.”

Indeed they are, via the streaming events that have grown up like kudzu on the internet ever since the COVID-19 pandemic spread to America. Among them: Blue Note at Home and the Live from Our Living Rooms festival. Frisell describes his slot in the latter as “so traumatic. I spent all day—because I just don’t have all this together with the phones and stuff—trying to get everything hooked up, figuring out how to use a microphone and all this. In the end nothing worked. I just rely on other people to do everything for me,” he says with an apologetic grin, “and now they’re all locked away somewhere.”

The justly lauded guitarist is himself locked away in his Brooklyn house these days, waiting (as we all are) for something to break. One way or another, though, he’ll soon have a new album to promote, his 38th as a leader and his second for Blue Note Records: Valentine. Cut with his regular trio mates Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, it’s a typical Frisellian mix of down-home and moody, abstract and endearingly direct. And in a move that’s tailormade for our current days of lockdown, fear, and polarized realities, the album draws to a spirited close with touching renditions of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “We Shall Overcome.”

My original plan for this interview, many months ago, was to turn it into a Bright Moments feature, with Frisell acting as right up through . But that was PC (Pre-Coronavirus). By the time our chat actually rolled around, I’d decided that a different strategy was called for: We should just talk. And I’m glad we did.

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