971

Bill Frisell at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA

Lyn Horton By

Sign in to view read count
He was no longer playing solo; he had supplied himself with a small guitar band.
Bill Frisell
Iron Horse
Northampton, Massachusetts
July 13, 2009


When performing alone, a musician has to work really hard, since the sound produced cannot be interwoven within the sounds other band members create. The soloist is virtually right out there in the same space as the audience. The musician's vulnerability, in turn, is unmistakable. Combine all that with the personality transmitted in the music, occasionally through the words of the performer, and there could be no more honest picture of the musical artist.

At the Iron Horse on January 13 Bill Frisell sat close to the edge of the small stage on a bent wood chair. He was dressed completely in black. His amp sat to his right, a bar stool in front of it to hold his miniature computer equipment, which rested on top of a blue-patterned cloth to pad it. His Telecaster shone golden and white as he placed it on his knee. His approach was calm, dedicated—and unpretentious.


Frisell improvised swirl after swirl of a rhythm-less overture that acquired enough momentum to become a tune that oozed sweetness, as many of Frisell's inventions do. It was as if he were sitting on a front porch of an old farmhouse at twilight. His instrument's tonality dipped into the bass and then came back up again into the melody several times. At one point, a glissando arched into a bit of dissonance and angularity, but it was not long before he found his way back into the rhythmic structure from which he had briefly departed. A brief hiatus stopped the music, and then he continued, overworking the guitar strings purposefully until a single strummed chord ended the music. But this was only the beginning.

The rest of the performance unveiled how his process unfolds—an approach that adds and subtracts layers of sonic complexity. Fingerings of phrases become chords that have the same values as the notes of the phrases. The two motifs interact with one another so that the simplicity of the main melody line runs through the ornamentation surrounding it. Frisell can return to the mainline, even if it has become complicated, because he knows where it is in the stream. He was certainly not averse to slipping into identifiable tunes, like Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," because the melody was there at the tips of his fingers. The ornamentation he used spanned the performer's spectrum—stopping and starting, picking single notes and note multiples, fanning vibratos and long-lasting strums, moving up the scale and down the scale, going high and dipping low, seesawing between two notes, isolating notes that quickly become fluidly disposed, or repeating wave after wave of borderline trance music.

All his gestures produced sparkles and continued as if a mere aspect of "doing." He did not sit on the stage to show off: he sat comfortably on the stage to unfurl his playful imagination into vibrations, as a child might go here and there, to casually test the extent of the capacity of his instrument, almost (from the spectator's perspective) with a sense of naivete, except that for an erudite like Frisell, each movement was purposeful.

The layering process he has mastered became evident when he switched on his digital/manipulator/computer /dubbing machine. It was this little, even tiny, machine that sat on the barstool, operated with the pedals invisibly pressed by his left foot on the floor. It was with this little machine that he recorded himself, gave himself reverb, endowed himself with a drone and other differentiated musical lines. He was no longer playing solo; he had supplied himself with a small guitar band.

Mid-concert, the results of his recording and dubbing himself unpredictably turned into a carnival, with the performer continuing to play right along with it. The clusters of sound simulated organ grinders and merry-go-rounds and grew centrifugally larger and larger until Frisell stopped. He smiled and said: "Gee, the computer went out of control...Let me do that again" as he pressed the pedal to initiate what he had just stopped, adding "I wish I could do that with my bare hands."

Afterwards, he rolled out beautifully lucid chords and single notes outside of the chords, phrases which transformed into the melody of Henry Mancini's "Moon River." The tempos, the bridges from one phrase to another, carried the tune to an abstract place where he stayed for awhile, rebuilding his vocabulary to apply it to the same composer's "The Days of Wine and Roses," which he eventually changed into a pulsation suggestive of falling raindrops. There was one more improvisation where he played over a computerized construct: the layers were clear. His guitar-playing became tighter and tighter over a digitalized drone, which once again proved that Frisell can do anything with his guitar given the solidity that he builds from his muse's gift of an original accompaniment line.


Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read Panama Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Panama Jazz Festival 2017
by Mark Holston
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom Live Reviews Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
by Geoff Anderson
Published: February 20, 2017
Read The Cookers at Nighttown Live Reviews The Cookers at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: February 16, 2017
Read Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens Live Reviews Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens
by Geno Thackara
Published: February 15, 2017
Read "Peacemaker Music & Arts Fest 2016" Live Reviews Peacemaker Music & Arts Fest 2016
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 17, 2016
Read "Snarky Puppy at the Electric Factory" Live Reviews Snarky Puppy at the Electric Factory
by Asher Wolf
Published: May 26, 2016
Read "T Sisters at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews T Sisters at SFJAZZ
by Asher Wolf
Published: July 21, 2016
Read "Stockholm Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews Stockholm Jazz Festival 2016
by John Ephland
Published: November 14, 2016
Read "2016 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit" Live Reviews 2016 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 28, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!