Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers Compound Grill Saturday, March 10
Many are those who believe jazz is boring, a style of music favorable to older generations and featuring only stodgy musicians playing the same tired standards in uninspired fashion. To some degree, these beliefs do have merit.
Then there's Bill Frisell.
The guitarist looks at jazz as the complex medium that it is and then proceeds to push the genres' limit that much further out. Improvisation is the true core of Frisell's work, and he's an artist -- thankfully -- all too willing to walk the line between musical success and failure. In fact, during the opening number Saturday night at the Compound Grill, Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers, featuring Eyvind Kang on violin and Rudy Royston on drums, balanced on that musical tightrope and almost made it cleanly across save for a smile-inducing stumble from Frisell. But it was a stumble a true jazz crowd appreciates, and this audience of 150 gave the band plenty of thanks.
An unusual set up -- guitar, violin and drums -- the mixture worked well with these creative minds. Kang plucked, stroked, picked and strummed his violin in so many ways it was like several instruments, while Royston's depth, detail and mastery provided just the right accentuation and snap to the proceedings.
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Many of the songs began in gentle fashion with Frisell's guitar work setting the tone and texture, from Appalachian meadows to French film noir, often repeating phrases until the audience was hypnotized (in a positive way) before breaking in a new direction. What's so amazing about this style of jazz is that when this happens, it's often as if each band member is doing something different, something their very own. Frisell constantly nudged his crew in various directions, released them to explore, but let them find their own way back. This scenario played out in almost every number. Seemingly against all odds, each tune came together again just as smoothly as it "fell apart." It's the beauty of jazz when done right, and this trio nailed it again and again.
While the bulk of the two hour performance featured Frisell originals, he did squeeze in two Beatles songs, "In My Life" and "Strawberry Fields Forever." Frisell is not the first jazz musician to cover The Beatles, but in this case, both songs were beautifully transformed into inspired pieces that at times hardly resembled the original. "Strawberry Fields Forever" was masterful in how the band turned this already psychedelic number into a truly far out and spacey composition.
The trio also converted Little Willie John's well-covered "Fever" into an entirely new tune retaining the gritty blues feel, but stretching it to the limit and bending it in new directions. It was this never ending desire to reach further and push the jazz envelope that made the evening special. Frisell is a guitarist and arranger beyond compare, and with Kang and Royston along for the ride, the possibilities, as they proved with each number, are endless.
Last Night: Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers, featuring Eyvind Kang and Rudy Royston.
Personal bias: Bill Frisell is always cutting edge and pushing jazz beyond the norm to the point that he's worth seeing every time he comes to town.
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The crowd: Typical middle-aged jazz crowd with some hip young folks in the mix.
Random notebook dump: Why do jazz musicians need to take a set break? They don't exactly work hard and jump around. Maybe their brains need a rest.
Overheard: "I'm sitting where I can really see the drummer. I play the drums and I can't even figure out what he's doing up there. I mean, wow, how does he do that?"