CD Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet (CD 7025378),
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Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet

  • 1. It's a Long Story, Pt. 1
    2. Old Times
    3. Sign of Life
    4. Friend of Mine, Pt. 1
    5. Wonderland
    6. It's a Long Story, Pt. 2
    7. Mother Daughter
    8. Youngster
    9. Recollection
    10. Suitcase in My Hand
    11. Sixty Four
    12. Friend of Mine, Pt. 2
    13. Painter
    14. Teacher
    15. All the People, All the Time
    16. Village
    17. As It Should Be
  • Additional Info
    Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): SVY17818

  • Credits
    ProducerLee Townsend
    EngineerAdam Munoz

    Personnel: Bill Frisell (guitar); Jenny Scheinman (violin); Eyvind Kang (viola); Hank Roberts (cello).
    Audio Mixer: Adam Muoz.
    Recording information: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA.
    Photographer: Michael Wilson .
    Arrangers: Eyvind Kang; Hank Roberts; Jenny Scheinman; Bill Frisell.
    After a five-year hiatus, Bill Frisell's 858 Quartet recorded their second offering. Their elliptical debut, Richter 858, was produced by poet David Breskin (who also helmed the sessions for Nels Cline's Dirty Baby), and accompanied an exhibition by German artist Gerhard Richter. The music on Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet was loosely composed by Frisell, and took shape in group rehearsals. 858's other members include violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, and cellist Hank Roberts. Recorded at Fantasy Studios in San Francisco and produced by Lee Townsend, the 17 selections on this set feel very organic. The album opens with Americana-tinged themes in the two-part "It's a Long Story" that nod to country, folk, and even Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" in its melody. "Old Times" hints at bluegrass, blues, and ragtime, but because of the complex interplay between the four players, reaches far past them into a music that is 858's own. "Friend of Mine" is another two-part tune; that said, where a pastoral theme is suggested in part one, a more mischievous one responds in the second some eight tracks later. Elsewhere, improvised classical motifs, jazz modes, and folk and other roots musics shimmer through these compositions, sometimes simultaneously and often spontaneously. The haunted yet restrained "Painter," which clocks in at under two minutes, is a modal sketch immediately followed by an equally brief, slightly dissonant pointillistic exercise in counterpoint called "Teacher." "All the People, All the Time" returns to more accessible and resonant territory but, as gentle as it is, it's full of quiet surprises and unexpected twists. For all of its space and economical phrasing, "Village" is downright cartoon spooky, and "Suitcase in My Hand," which jaunts along in a striding, near reel, is transformed by Scheinman playing country-style fiddle, though the rhythmic signature never changes. "Sixty Four," with its pulsing time and repetitive, slightly shifting harmonic line, feels -- but not quite sounds -- like something Philip Glass might have written if he had a sense of humor, and is the only place on the record where Frisell lets somewhat ragged sonic edges into his playing. Sign of Life is a curious, quirky, and deceptively low-key affair that is musically labyrinthine and ambitious; it's full of gorgeous spaces, textures, utterly instinctive interplay, and unexpected delight. ~ Thom Jurek

  • Critic Reviews
    Down Beat (p.49) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "In the most engaging passages, the music succeeds in evoking a particular atmosphere, rich in associations and connotations..."
    JazzTimes (p.60) - "SIGN OF LIFE finds Frisell exploring chamber-group dynamics in ways that toggle between composition and improvisation, reverberating soundscapes and spiky minimalism."
    Billboard (p.30) - "[M]ost of the set plays it on the quiet side, whether shimmery, languid or delicate. There's a gentle purity to this music that makes it unique in Frisell's catalog."
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