The Bill Frisell Trio
The London Jazz Festival
November 15, 2005
Every once in a while a performer can get away with what happened when Bill Frisell performed at the 2005 London Jazz Festival at the magnificent Barbican, but not often. Appearing with violinist Jenny Scheinman and guitarist Greg Leisz, he blew the rules away with a wave of his hand.
Bill Frisell has produced a long line of illustrious works such as the sensually hypnotic "Unspeakable, a Grammy winner last year, to "This Land, "Have a Little Faith and "Good Dog, Happy Man, every one a fine example of his breadth from Americana to near-trance music all under the heading of jazz.
Expecting a foray into these albums, he surprised the audience by immediately launching into "Across the Universe by the Beatles in a pool-lit trio with his colleagues on a bare stage. This then turned into an evening's tribute to the songwriting genius of a British native son, John Lennon. An hour and a half followed of pure magic in bass, electric and acoustic guitar; covering everything from the Beatles early discography with "Please, Please Me, to the raucous "Back in the USSR, to solo works of Lennon's, "Beautiful Boy, a medley incorporating "Imagine, and the haunting "Norwegian Wood . For anyone else and perhaps at some other time, this would have come off as patronizing a musician in his own land by a stranger, but when Frisell played "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away the magic of the voice silenced by violence once again took shape on the stage.
Whether you agreed with his politics or not, Lennon was a quixotic character who flew in the face of the conventions of the times and even his own character to make the rebellious statement he did in his life and his music. Ego-driven, petty at times and not above fighting in public, he was still unflinchingly honest with himself and was always focused, with detours, about rising above base human frailty to a higher ethic. "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away is the statement that most of us learn early only to expand, if we are successful, to the soaring questions of "Imagine . Frisell applied these concepts gently and without cloying and in doing so, reminded us all of our legacy and our task as human beings of finding our true human spirit. "In My Life, an almost obligatory hopeful yet poignant essay, became an anthem for the Queen's country in the face of the recent bombings in London and a fitting requiem for Lennon.
Frisell's own statement of jazz being a process and not a rarified style was evident in his almost folk-like yet unpredictable treatment of many of the tunes. He possesses the secret that the memorable ones always do, in the face of a culture that demands we all adhere to the standards set by the "flavor of the moment, he expresses himself with a lyric grace and lack of pretension as to play completely without ego. The expert accompaniment of his sideman on guitar, Greg Leisz, an expressive player on acoustic and lap slide guitar, and his truly graceful yet commanding violinist, Jenny Scheinman, bridged styles and moods seamlessly. The set took on the feeling of Mussorky's "Pictures at an Exhibition, with ethereal tone-poems between covers that wended their way from song to song and from feeling to feeling.
Music, when wielded by a wise and subtle hand can say more than politics ever will.
The also American trio, "Tin Hat, opened for Frisell, and between songs dropped a few hints about the current state of politics in the States, implying the deeply entrenched opposition of one group against another. Eclectic and worthy of note, they were an eerie mix of Klezmer meets Tim Burton meets Cirque du Soleil, but their sophomore status became evident in counterpoint to what the master Frisell was asking us to do: Imagine.
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Photo Credit: Michael Kurgansky