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Live Reviews

Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-3, June 24-26, 2010

By Published: June 28, 2010
June 26: Bill Frisell 858 Quartet

For Bill Frisell's second night at the OIFJ Friends series, he reconvened a group that came into existence earlier in the century to record music inspired by—and originally included exclusively in an expensive art book, until Songlines released it as a standalone CD a couple years later—German painter Gerhard Richter. Richter 858 (2005) was some of Frisell's most challenging music in recent times, demonstrating that, amidst more accessible recordings like Unspeakable and East West (Nonesuch, 2005), the intrepid guitarist had lost none of the edge he displayed on early solo albums like Before We Were Born (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1989) and Is That You? (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1990). As the years go on and Frisell introduces more and more projects, it becomes clear that this multifaceted artist never really leaves anything behind; he just blends it with everything else that catches his fancy, and elements invariably find their way up in the mix again, just more equitably balanced.

But the 858 Quartet that performed at the OIJF was a considerably softer, unequivocally more beautiful beast than that on the album, making its pending recording this fall, and planned new release early in 2011, something that will, no doubt, be high on the "must have" list for the capacity crowd that filled the Studio of the National Arts Centre. 858 is also a group that exemplifies Frisell's loyalty to musicians he has met and connected with along the way. Cellist Hank Roberts
Hank Roberts
Hank Roberts
b.1954
cello
was a member of Frisell's first major group, dating back to the guitarist's ECM days and Lookout for Hope (1988), while Frisell first worked with violist Eyvind Kang on Quartet—the start of a relationship that has continued right up to the guitarist's Beautiful Dreamers, which played the Studio the previous night. Violinist Jenny Scheinman is the newest recruit, relatively speaking, first working with Frisell on Richter 858 and The Intercontinentals, and the guitarist returning the favor on her own albums including the vignette-driven 12 Songs (Cryptogramophone, 2005) and more ambitiously sweeping Crossing the Field (Koch, 2008).

With the sound of chirping birds creating a gentle, relaxed ambience in the room—so quiet that a whisper was like a roar—Frisell and the quartet came onstage, with Kang and Scheinman mirroring the sound of the birds with delicate, swooping harmonics, and Frisell slowly building into the first tune. Using the same guitar as the night before—some kind of custom-built/Telecaster hybrid—he still had his usual mad scientist's rig of devices, but the volume remained so quiet that, had his guitar been a hollow body, it would have been possible to hear its natural sound over the amplification. Few well-known guitarists, outside of perhaps Jim Hall
Jim Hall
Jim Hall
1930 - 2013
guitar
—with whom Frisell serendipitously collaborated on Hemispheres (ArtistShare, 2009)—work at such quiet levels that it's almost necessary to lean forward to hear their music.

Frisell's tone, despite running through the same two Fender Deluxe amps as the night before, sounded almost acoustic at the start, though he did morph through a variety of textures throughout, even kicking in some overdrive later in the set, proving that volume isn't required to achieve a gritty sound. As much as Frisell's sometimes predilection for repeating long phrases—and working them with the subtlest of evolutions, such that it's only after a few minutes that it becomes clear just how much the music has changed—define some of the compositions and arrangements he's written for 858, this remains some of his most heavily scored music, though there's no shortage for interpretation and solo space for everyone in the group. Roberts' feature, on a version of The Intercontinentals' world-informed "Baba Drame," was both a set highlight and clear indication of how even, in this case, a very simple premise can be milked for all it's worth, year-after-year, and still reveal plenty new in the process.

"Baba Drame" wasn't just an indication of how significantly context can alter the same music; when Frisell brought 858 to Mannheim, Germany for Enjoy Jazz 2010, it was the same lineup, save for Scheinman, who was replaced by another longtime Frisell cohort, trumpeter Ron Miles
Ron Miles
Ron Miles

trumpet
, and the brighter tonality of brass completely changed the quartet 's complexion. That performance was also a soft, near-acoustic concert, but 858's Ottawa performance more closely approached the sublime, with Frisell's shifting tones an egalitarian foil for Scheinman and Kang's sometimes unison, sometimes orbiting lines and Roberts' occasional plummets into near-bass walking lines.

Frisell revisited "Tea for Two" from the previous evening, but with a more circuitous arrangement that only revealed itself fully near the song's end. It was unmistakably engaging—and enlightening—to hear Frisell rework Stephen Foster's traditional chestnut, "My Old Kentucky Home" for what is essentially a classical string quartet context, albeit one with a violin replaced by electric guitar. Chamber music this was, but despite being filled with rich string arrangements and ethereal segues, it still managed to groove, swing, and even get down and bluesy. It may be one of Frisell's more unusual settings, but as deep as the music was—played by a sympathetic quartet of players whose relationships define both a comfort level and an inherent adventurous nature—it was as well received as Beautiful Dreamers was the night before. For a kick-off to OIJF's Friends series, these two shows were an unequivocal success, and bode well for the rest of the series, which will feature two nights by drummer Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
b.1964
drums
(one evening with Scheinman participating), one by pianist Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
b.1978
piano
, one by Europe's Globe Unity Orchestra, and a closing series performance featuring saxophonist Javon Jackson
Javon Jackson
Javon Jackson
b.1965
saxophone
and his guest, legendary soul jazz pianist Les McCann
Les McCann
Les McCann
b.1935
piano
.

Coming up in AAJ's coverage of the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival's days 4-6: saxophonist Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
b.1960
sax, alto
; guitarist John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
and the Piety Street Band; Mostly Others Do The Killing; guitarist Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner
b.1940
guitar
and trumpeter Paolo Fresu
Paolo Fresu
Paolo Fresu
b.1961
trumpet
; Medeski, Martin & Wood
Medeski, Martin & Wood
Medeski, Martin & Wood

band/orchestra
; bassist John Geggie
John Geggie
John Geggie
b.1960
bass
with drummer Jim Doxas, and trumpeters Cuong Vu
Cuong Vu
Cuong Vu
b.1969
trumpet
and Jimmy Lewis
Jimmy Lewis
b.1918
; Korean singer Youn Sun Nah
Youn Sun Nah
Youn Sun Nah

vocalist
; and drummer Manu Katche
Manu Katche
Manu Katche
b.1958
drums
.

Visit Mike Innanen, Etienne Charles, Bill Frisell and TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.

Photo Credits

All Photos: John Kelman

Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9 | Days 10-11


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