Innocence and wonder allow creativity to flow endlessly, without inhibition. Bill Frisell knows and practices innocence in everything he does. He continually changes his sound in relation to the context in which he places himself. What the listener will hear is always Frisell though, abstractions, melodies, and all. Frisell takes away all preconceptions about his task of making music and resultantly produces a distinctive sound that within its own prescribed limits reveals no bounds.
Putting movies and music together is certainly not a new idea. But Bill Frisell on lead guitar, Tony Scher on bass guitar and Kenny Wolleson on drums, together, complementing films by Jim Woodring, Bill Morrison and those starring Buster Keaton--- that is new. At MassMoca on August 4, a mélange of cartoon fantasy, humor and a tad bit of seriousness swelled for the audience seated in front of a huge outdoor movie screen, below which was the platform where the trio performed. These films suit Frisell because their stories and characterizations match up with the guitarist’s playfulness and affinity for nuance.
Merging imagery and sound without the sound being totally bound to the literal is a difficult exercise to undertake. Frisell did it with ease. Separating the film from the music in order to ascertain how the music could develop on its own benefits the appreciation of both. The drumming became the key to aligning the motion of the music with the motion of the film. As the rhythm was set forth, so did the music unfold. The trio did not unwind a sound track. The music stayed open, loose, and unrestricted. The compositions boasted themes, choruses, and improvisations, which floated on top of the entire evening’s experience.
So many times the texture of the music coincided with the visual texture of the film being shown, particularly in the instance of Morrison’s reworking of The Mesmerist. Paying attention to the way in which the actual physical film changed graphically or in story line was a key to discovering the way in which the music changed.
Woodring’s 3-D animation humor was abstract enough to warrant elongated, chordal guitar strumming interacting with rapid rhythm layout from the drums. Frisell’s hand coordinated guitar splashes with maneuvering the electronics pointillistically or as if flushing the sound out. The bass player stood out only occasionally; his playing was tightly integrated into the whole.
The most programmatic of all of the music followed the intelligent slapstick of Buster Keaton’s two films. The drums mimicked the timing of the film's action. The rhythm evolved bilaterally with both the theme of the accompaniment and with the choreography within the film. The guitars often launched into unbalanced, irregular modes when the comedic movement became complex, even though the idea behind it was exceedingly simple.
The density of Frisell’s music arises from the layering that has recently emanated from his application of electronics apart from his electric guitar. However, Frisell always offers a lesson in simplicity even though his music seems thick and complicated. The lesson comes in the themes that are those perfectly plucked one liners that open the door for the remaining elaborations, whether explored by a group of musicians or just by Frisell, all by himself.