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The Bill Frisell Trio+1 at Roulette in Brooklyn

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Bill Frisell brought his Trio to Roulette in Brooklyn on Friday (May 27, 2022). He has a lengthy history with the venue dating back to his early days in New York City (late 1970s/early 1980s) when Roulette was situated in lower Manhattan and served as a forum for up-and-coming adventurous artists. On this occasion, the Trio was joined by alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. Frisell has amassed an extraordinary and remarkably diverse body of work over 40 years. However, relatively few of these recordings have featured his trio. On the other hand, the trio has been Frisell's favored vehicle for live performance throughout the last couple of decades. These units have been built around a handful of musicians with whom Frisell maintains long-term relationships, including bassists Kermit Driscoll, Viktor Krauss, and Tony Scherr and drummers Joey Baron and Kenny Wollesen. Their long tenure allows them to develop a remarkable musical intimacy, shared musical understandings, and a distinctive process to live performance. The process enables them to revisit familiar material and spontaneously stretch it in unpredictable ways.

The current trio includes bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston. Morgan had worked with Frisell as a duet and recorded two exquisite albums of incredible intimacy, Small Town and Epistrophy. Royston has played with Frisell in various ensembles over the last 14 years. The Trio has worked together as a unit for the last five years and has developed remarkable telepathy. Their debut album, Valentine, was released in 2020. To quote my colleague, Ian Patterson, the Trio "revel in the tight but loose interplay that is a hallmark of the best groups, plying a course as deeply lyrical as it is adventurous." This description encapsulates their approach to live performance as well. Immanuel Wilkins is a young, prodigiously gifted saxophonist. He has developed a reputation as a stellar sideman and leader, releasing two critically acclaimed albums on Blue Note Records. Although he was billed as a special guest, he was not featured as a soloist. Rather he was invited to participate in the dialogue and proved to be a seamlessly fit, adding a distinctive new voice but not disrupting the process.

The spare ruminative folk-jazz music played during the set was different in emphasis from earlier versions of the Trio (e.g., Tony Scherr and Joey Baron) when they played these very lengthy and incredibly raucous versions of "Masters of War" and "Heard it Through the Grapevine." But the process remains largely the same. The set is based on an organically evolving musical conversation with minimal planning. The 90-minute set was largely developed around the lengthy performance of two songs: "Baba Drame" and "Strange Meeting," which have been staples in Frisell's live performance for some years. The first of those songs, "Baba Drame," is a lovely Malian blues penned by Boubacar Traore. It was first recorded by Frisell on The Intercontinentals album, (Nonesuch, 2003). The second song, "Strange Meeting," is a Frisell composition and the most durable track from the album With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones (2001). Both songs proved to be perfect vehicles for the spontaneous dialogue between the four musicians. The songs served as a skeletal framework to incorporate other compositions, with the ensemble always returning to the melody. For example, Wilkins introduced a gorgeous rendition of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" as a kind of coda to "Strange Meeting." The encore featured a heartfelt straight-ahead version of "We Shall Overcome," which seemed like the perfect tonic for these troubled times.
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