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Freewheeling Frisell

In a rare live performance, Bill Frisell & his Trio played to a standing room only audience, some of whom came from over 100 miles away, at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA on November 17. When I attend concerts where the featured player is of the caliber of Frisell, I do it for the reason that it is a chance of a lifetime...and I had better seize the opportunity because the chance may elude me in the future. And I am so gratified with my decision that after the performance is done and all the encores are over, I exit the club and walk to my car with a bounce in my step and a sense of renewal in my psyche.

On every table at the club lay a postcard size piece of paper on which there was a quirky, cartoonish as-only-Frisell-could-do self-portrait and on the reverse, information about the instrumentalists and quotes from magazines about how wonderful Frisell is. In retrospect, I wish that I had been able to grab him after the music was over so he could autograph it...even though the card has a printed signature on it.

These cards opened the door to an expectation of the experience of the oncoming experimentation, the innocence, beauty and sheer delight of the music produced by guitarist Frisell and his drummer, Kenny Wollesen, and his bassist, Victor Krauss. It was music that had to be applauded long and loudly with accompanying catcalls.

Frisell flicked the switch on a tiny digital sound device which imitated the kinds of guitar picking that Frisell does. In fact, it sounded like a recording he had made of himself. He started playing with it exactly in synch on his 6-string electric guitar and laid the groundwork for a continuo with which the bass and the drums coincided. Frisell took off like the delicate blowing of a breeze and then progressed to key changes to move into heavier sonic zones. Frisell plays single notes. It is the reverb that he controls to create largeness and with which he stretches the notes and essentially orchestrates them. Frisell’s guitar is the lead instrument. The music that comes from it floats over the bass and drums. The latter are strong elements within the trio. They have to be in order for Frisell to travel on the plane above them. The music comes off the stage as if in contemporaneous layers.

The signature hook is the tempo. It seems to remain the same. It is the reverb that completes the music and makes the trio into a quartet. The drumming is assiduous, large, full of accentuation. The bass supplies tones that are deep, persistent, and sometimes simply a result of one index finger going across the strings.

One tune elopes with another. From driving hard to softly sailing through the air with his guitar, Frisell ornamented melodies 'til the ornamentation became the melodies. With his playing, Frisell twinkles, creates heavenly bodies, childlike imaginations. The sound is fuzzy, it is clear, it resounds. Phrasings move up and down, and occur over and over again. Very little tightness trips the strings. His rhythm becomes the focus. The improvisation becomes the rhythm. The improvisation examines its own construction. The drums and bass never stray from the focus. The rhythm section works for, with and through the guitar. The band cannot be torn apart. The players all need each other.

Several recognizable tunes came through, two, from Frisell’s CD, NASHVILLE. Dylan’s JUST LIKE WOMAN quietly rose out of the flow. The tunes were a means to switch gears for awhile from the abstractions, from the seemingly sensible to the expressionistic.

Ironically, some of the most eloquent moments were not made of notes, but emanated from Frisell’s infectious smile. He always faced his team, not the audience, which is totally OK. He was glued to the unit physically. Musically, the trio went everywhere--- from jazz, to folk, to funk. Mostly, Frisell was himself, always shifting, not sticking to a proverbial rut.

This gig...this gig was one giant trip. And it was great.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bill Frisell Trio
  • Concert Date: 11/17/2004
  • Venue: Iron Horse
  • City State Country: Northampton. MA
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