Vintage sound samples are the jumping-off point for this playful, eclectic, and groove-oriented collaboration with producer Hal Willner. U.S. News & World Report calls this 2004 Best Contemporary Jazz Album Grammy winner “soulful, salty, soothing, spacey—and great fun.”
2004 Grammy Award Winner
Celebrated guitarist Bill Frisell’s 19th Nonesuch record, Unspeakable, was released in August 2004. The groove and soul–based collaboration with renowned producer Hal Willner takes a freewheeling, idiosyncratic approach to the modern art of music sampling. As a jumping-off point for the record, Frisell and Willner employed obscure songs and sounds culled from vintage vinyl records for their own sonic explorations, borrowing and integrating choice fragments into original compositions. Willner, Saturday Night Live’s music supervisor, scoured NBC’s well-stocked record library for inspiration. The pair sampled the ideas and/or moods from the various tracks Willner had unearthed; in most cases, Frisell elaborated on the original, creating new songs and often going in a totally different direction from the sample.
With Willner manning the turntables, Frisell is accompanied by frequent collaborators Tony Scherr (bass), Kenny Wollesen (drums), and Steven Bernstein (trumpet, horn arrangements). Don Alias and Adam Dorn are featured on percussion and synth, respectively. Frisell also wrote string arrangements, which are played by the 858 Strings: violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, and cellist Hank Roberts.
“Making this record with Hal was the fulfillment of a 20-plus year dream for me,” said Frisell. Early in their careers, Frisell and Willner collaborated on Willner’s groundbreaking 1981 multi-artist tribute to Nina Rota’s music for Fellini films. Although he had never heard the guitarist, Willner gave Frisell his first solo recording opportunity, based on a recommendation from a mutual friend—the drummer D. Sharpe, for whom a track on Unspeakable is named—on Amarcord Nino Rota. The pair crossed paths often over the next two decades, collaborating on Stay Awake, a record of Disney music, and Weird Nightmare, a tribute to Charles Mingus. Frisell also performed as part of the Willner-produced tribute concerts for Harry Smith and Randy Newman at UCLA.
Other Willner-produced records on which Frisell is featured include Marianne Faithful, Allen Ginsberg, David Sanborn, and Gavin Friday projects. The two also recorded music to accompany William Burroughs’s reading of Naked Lunch. More recently, they joined forces on the scores for Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester, as well as Wim Wenders’ Million Dollar Hotel with Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, and Bono. During the Hotel sessions, Willner heard Frisell playing dance music and got an idea for a unique joint venture, something the genre-bending Frisell had never recorded before. As Willner says, “We wanted to make a beautiful, fun record that still was a Bill Frisell record. I think we succeeded.”
Produced by Hal Willner
Recorded, mixed, and edited by Eric Liljestrand
Recorded and mixed at The Village, North Hollywood, CA
Assistant Engineers: Matt Marin, Darren Frank and Margit Pfeiffer
Horns recorded by Noah Simon at Jarvis Recording, New York City
Additional recording at Adam’s Place, NY; and Eric’s Place, LA
Additional editing on track 2 by Adam Dorn
Mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, New York City
Track 1, 7, 10 by Bill Frisell; track 3 by Hal Willner; tracks 2, 5 by Bill Frisell / Hal Willner; tracks 4, 6, 8 by Bill Frisell / Hal Willner / Eric Liljestrand; track 8 by Bill Frisell / Hal Willner / Eric Liljestrand / Steve Bernstein / R. Walter; track 11 by Hal Willner / Otto Sieben; track 12 by Bill Frisell / Tony Scherr / Kenny Wollesen; track 13 by Hal Willner / Eric Liljestrand / G. Grant; track 14 by Bill Frisell / Hal Willner / Teddy Lasry. String arrangement on tracks 1, 4, 6-12,14 by Bill Frisell. Horn arrangement on tracks 2, 6, 9, 11, 12 by Steven Bernstein.
Design by Barbara deWilde
Illustrations by Noah Woods
Bill Frisell, guitar (1-9, 11-14)
Hal Willner, turntables (1-6, 8-11, 13, 14)
Tony Scherr, bass (1-4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14), guitar (12)
Kenny Wollensen, drums (1-4, 6, 8, 9, 11-14)
Don Alias, percussion (1, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12)
Steven Bernstein, trumpet (2, 6, 9, 11, 12)
Briggan Krauss, baritone saxophone (2, 6, 9, 11, 12)
Curtis Fowlkes, trombone (2, 6, 9, 11, 12)
Adam Dorn, synth (4)
The 858 Strings (1, 4, 6-12, 14): Jenny Scheinman, violin; Eyvind Kang, viola; Hank Roberts, cello