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History, Mystery

History, Mystery cover art

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News & Reviews

  • Bill Frisell Brings Multimedia "Disfarmer Project" to Europe

    Bill Frisell launches an 11-city European tour featuring the music of his last Nonesuch album, Disfarmer, in Hamburg, Germany, tonight. Joining him on tour are steel-guitar player Greg Leisz, bassist Viktor Krauss, and violinist Carrie Rodriquez. In the multimedia piece, inspired by the life, work, and subjects of eccentric photographer Mike Disfarmer, projected images of Disfarmer's portraits illuminate Frisell's musical perspectives on this fascinating character.

  • Bill Frisell Begins Two-Week Residency at New York's Village Vanguard; Film Featuring His Music Opens at Hot Docs Festival

    Bill Frisell is in New York City this week to begin a two-week residency at the Village Vanguard. This week's line-up features the Bill Frisell Trio, with Eyvind Kang on violin and Rudy Royston on drums. Next week, Frisell leads his 858 Quartet, with Kang returning on violin, Jenny Scheinman on violin as well, and Hank Roberts joining on cello. Tonight, Portrait of a Man, a new documentary film featuring Frisell's music, receives its international premiere at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto.

About this Album

Grammy Award–winning guitarist, composer, and bandleader Bill Frisell’s History, Mystery was released on May 13, 2008. After back-to-back trio albums, this two-disc set finds Frisell performing and recording again with a large band. 

History, Mystery features an octet of strings, horns, and rhythm section with some of Frisell’s closest collaborators—Jenny Scheinman (violin), Eyvind Kang, (viola), Hank Roberts (cello), Ron Miles (cornet), Greg Tardy (clarinet and tenor saxophone), Tony Scherr (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums). History, Mystery debuts many recent Frisell compositions as well as a few of his arrangements of favorite pieces by other songwriters, ranging in style from soul pioneer Sam Cooke to jazzmen Thelonious Monk and Lee Konitz. Producer Lee Townsend and engineer Shawn Pierce recorded the group in various combinations and contexts, live and in the studio.

The original compositions on the album were born from and inspired by collaborations with visual artist and fellow Seattle resident Jim Woodring. One such collaboration, “Mysterio Simpatico,” was premiered at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in June of 2002. The two later presented “Probability Cloud,” which appears in parts on the first disc, at Zankel Hall in New York in January of 2006. In a review of the performance, the New York Times wrote, “Both Mr. Frisell and Mr. Woodring make the familiar unfamiliar. In Mr. Frisell's compositions, cozy, archetypal Americana—country tunes, blues, waltzes—is slowed down, melted at the edges, eerily reharmonized or disassembled and contemplated part by part.”

Townsend says, “History, Mystery explores a fuller palette of orchestral colors and timbres than for any project Bill has done before. Thematic elements recur throughout the album, furthering its symphonic sensibility.”

In a career that spans more than 30 years and 100-plus recordings, Bill Frisell has been hailed by the Washington Post as “not only one of the most inventive jazz guitarists of his generation, but also one of the most versatile and prolific.” The Philadelphia Inquirer writes, “like Miles Davis and few others, his signature is built from pure sound and inflection; an anti-technique that is instantly identifiable.” Frisell’s recordings over the last decades span a wide range of musical influences, from Buster Keaton film scores (The High Sign / One Week, Go West), to Gary Larson cartoon soundtracks (Quartet), to original compositions for extended ensemble with horns (This Land, Blues Dream) and collaborations with the acclaimed rhythm section of bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Jim Keltner (Gone, Just Like a Train and Good Dog, Happy Man). Other releases include an album with Nashville musicians (Nashville), the solo album Ghost Town, an album of his arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach (The Sweetest Punch), a trio album with jazz legends Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, and a collection of American traditional songs and original compositions inspired by them entitled The Willies. Unspeakable, produced by Hal Willner, won a Grammy in 2005. DownBeat has cited his catalog, including more than 20 recordings for Nonesuch, as “the best recorded output of the decade.”


Bill Frisell, electric and acoustic guitars, loops
Ron Miles, cornet
Greg Tardy, tenor saxophone, clarinet
Jenny Scheinman, violin
Eyvind Kang, viola
Hank Roberts, cello
Tony Scherr, bass
Kenny Wollesen, drums


Produced by Lee Townsend
Recording and Mixing Engineer: Shawn Pierce
Mastering Engineer: Greg Calbi
Recorded at Avast 2, Seattle; Lisner Auditorium, Washington, DC; Hopkins Center, Hanover, New Hampshire; and Berklee Performance Center, Boston
Mixed at Avast 2, Seattle
Mastered at Sterling Sound, New York
Additional mixing and editing: Adam Muñoz
Production assistance:  Adam Blomberg
Assistant Engineers: Cathy Ferrante, Austin Sousa and Cameron Nicklaus
Live Sound: Claudia Engelhart

All compositions by Bill Frisell (Friz-Tone Music/BMI), except: “Baba Drame” by Boubacar Traore (Label Bleu/SACEM), “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke (ABKCO Music Inc/BMI), “Jacky-ing” by Thelonious Monk (Thelonious Music Corp/BMI), “Sub-Conscious Lee” by Lee Konitz (Konitz Music/BMI)

Design by Barbara deWilde
Cover photographs by Russell Lee

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