Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bill Frisell

Candy-Striped Power Tool

Some reasons why guitarist Bill Frisell is so cool:

  • He sounds utterly like nobody else

  • This distinctive "voice" of his, it registers like some weird mercury ghost

  • As with Thelonious Monk, you tend to get the mistaken first impression that his playing is a touch naive and hesitant

  • Someone once called him the "Clark Kent of the electric guitar": gentle and self-effacing in person, and a fire-breathing dragon when his fingers are on the frets

  • Best of all, it makes no sense to imprison him in any one idiom (like jazz)

On his album Have A Little Faith, in all seriousness, he performs compositions by: Aaron Copland ("Billy The Kid"), Madonna ("Live To Tell"), Charles Ives, Dylan, Sousa and Stephen Foster. And they all sound like he wrote them.

Recently, his trio (acoustic bass, drums) played on the campus of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Frisell entered, in most unjazz-like fashion, with a yellow Telecaster slung around his neck. He positioned himself in front of a small army of low-tech effects pedals. He let a note ring, and like a mad scientist, twiddled and turned some knobs, stomping on the pedals once or twice. Soon, you heard the wheezy snarl of a loop echoing over and over. The bassist and drummer raised their eyebrows. Then they dipped their feet slowly in the water to test the temperature, and slid in. And the band was off.

An hour's worth of a glorious racket followed. Melodically, it was like roots music; harmonically, it was like jazz; rhythmically, it was like rock n' roll; and texturally, it was like nothing else, just pure Frisell. By the end, it became clear that the show had been almost entirely improvised.

Frisell returned for a quick encore. It was a sweet slow-burn version, finger-picked on electric guitar, of Burt Bacharach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love".


Blogger Mike Slagor said...

frisell is comin to univ. of illinois. i'll be sure to check him out. and also, in relation to your post, T-monk was also here on campus just a week ago as well!


June 23, 2005 9:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Try to catch Frisell if you can. His playing is full of surprise.
I can't resist the urge to yank your chain, Mike, but Monk's been dead 20 years! (zing).
Seriously though, it's his son T.S. Monk (a jazz drummer) who is on tour right now.
Let me know what you think of the Frisell show.

June 23, 2005 9:38 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Your reasons nail it right on the head. He's one of thoses musicians who's sound is immediately recognizable, but always with incredible variety. The mark of genius.

June 24, 2005 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

lovely accompanying graphic -- the mystical stringless guitar...strikes me as being something like Odysseus' bow....

June 24, 2005 12:55 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

How about a little bluegrass Pink Floyd?:

June 25, 2005 4:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey that's pretty neat...

June 25, 2005 5:27 PM  

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