Bill Frisell electric and acoustic guitars
Arild Andersen bass
Recorded August 1982 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
I had the great fortune of seeing Bill Frisell by his lonesome in the summer of 2009 at Northampton’s Iron Horse, where he employed a rather modest set of equipment consisting mainly of digital pedal delays, unfolding from one guitar a ghostly map of sound. This process of self-generation seems to have always been at the heart of his musical output, and no album approaches that feeling as intimately as In Line. His sound is so full that bassist Arild Andersen’s reverberating swaths of darkness reveal an inner voice of the guitar in “Start” and carry Frisell’s suggestive lilts to distant conclusions. Andersen’s role is not to be ignored, sharing as he does a sensual conversation with Frisell in “Three” and providing a tearful backdrop to “Godson Song.” Here, Frisell’s guitar also gently weeps, slithering under the bass’s watchful eye, ever at the edge of naivety. The intertwining electrics of “Two Arms” tighten like a finger trap into a wormhole toward “Shorts,” which recalls childhood with its unintended (?) allusion to “Three Blind Mice.” These brief flashes of nostalgia make their way carefully down the spiral staircase of “Smile On You” and out onto “The Beach,” a stunning soundscape for processed electrics that moves like a train through a tunnel and crests atop Andersen’s slithering harmonics. The title track steps out of the album’s default monochrome with the gamelan colors of its detuned acoustics. The more clean-cut leads take us farthest in a final blissful gasp.
Yet if we’re going to talk about bliss, then our lips must shape the word “Throughout,” which names the album’s most inescapable embrace. This piece would also provide the basis for Gavin Bryars’ heavenly 1986 adaptation, Sub Rosa. The chord progression itself speaks volumes and gives breath to the lead electric as it sings with all the restraint at its disposal.
Like an opera singer who cuts through all the trained vibrato now and then with that single crystalline note, Frisell’s phrasings tremble on a watery surface, glinting occasionally with the light of a distant sun. In that light is hope, and this hope one encounters ECM’s core philosophy of silence. If you only own one Frisell album, make it this.