Review: Bill Frisell’s jazz quartet emphasizes interplay

“Four,” Bill Frisell (Blue Note)

Guitarist Bill Frisell’s new jazz quartet album is like a stimulating conversation among friends who swap quick quips and insights, the shifts in mood frequent and unpredictable. The ensemble effort emphasizes inventive interplay and the collective colors created, rather than solos or flashy riffs.

As longtime fans know, Frisell can play anything while sounding like no one else. On “Four” he often plays a supporting role, generously sharing the spotlight with Gerald Clayton on piano, Johnathan Blake on drums, and Gregory Tardy on tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet. There’s no bass, and the album’s foundation instead is simultaneous improvisation as the musicians build on Frisell’s skeletal compositions and react to each other measure by measure.

A delightful variety results. Quirky rhythms and intervals make the happy “Holiday” jittery and skittery, and “Blues from Before” is equally funny and fun, while “Always” improbably bridges genres as a country fugue. “Claude Utley” and “Wise Woman” sound neoclassical, and sepia tones distinguish the lyrical “Dear Old Friend (For Alan Woodard).”

The closing “Dog on a Roof” unfolds slowly, free of a beat for the first 2½ minutes. The band then settles into a blues and swirls around a four-note figure, immersed in one final collaborative triumph.

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