In 1966, painter Gerhard Richter declared, "I do not pursue any particular intentions, system, or direction. I do not have a program, a style, a course to follow. I have brought not being interested in specialist problems, working themes, in variations, towards mastery. I shy away from all restrictions, I do not know what I want, I am inconsistent, indifferent, passive; I like things that are indeterminate and boundless, and I like persistent uncertainty."

Since the 1980s, guitarist Bill Frisell has made a habit of such discreet yet deft exploration. His new disc, Richter 858 (Songlines), may surprise those used to his mellow blend of back-country blues and jazz. The disc's first track kicks off with tremulously scrabbling barrage by the 858 Quartet: Frisell (guitars, electronics), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola), and Hank Roberts (cello). That brutal discharge unexpectedly gives way to a loping dirge and a whinnying violin. The rest of the album bristles with similar sonic surprises.

Each track on Richter 858 corresponds to a painting in Richter's 858 series hanging in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Like those paintings, which teem with bold, primary colors smeared in thin ridges and distorted stripes, Frisell and friends stay individually fierce and forceful without blurring each other out. I'm hooked on the album's off-kilter concoction of demented string pizzicati, forlorn waltzes staggering along in uncountable time, and haunted atmospherics.

A final note: In the spirit of uncertainty, musicians, club owners, labels, and studios reading this should consider contributing to The Stranger's annual Musicians' Directory. It's free, reminds readers of the variety of music in our burg, and may lead to some interesting adventures. (It did for me back in the day.) Register online at or use the form in this week's paper, pg. 34. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

Catch Bill Frisell's 858 Quartet Mon Feb 7 and Tues Feb 8, Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave NW, 789-3599, 8 pm, $20.