Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Night "Out" at the Museum

As usually is the case a few times a year, I headed down to the DMA tonight to see one of the free "Jazz Under the Stars" concerts. This week's show had special interest for me, as I'd never seen Bill Frisell in concert before.

Frisell is known for both his interesting use of delays and tape loops, as well as blending elements of rock, folk and country into an unusual casserole that sometimes sits right on the fringe of jazz. In other words, this might well be the most "out" concert to be held outdoors at the DMA in quite some time (previous years have included artists like Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Joe Lovano and Nat Adderley). I also figured, correctly, that--unlike some of the previous outdoor concerts I've seen of late--there wouldn't be much danger of the wine-and-cheese crowd talking over the concert. Most of the people in attendance were there to listen, and the rest probably stared at the stage incredulously, wondering what the heck the band was going to do next.
"When I was 16, I was listening to a lot of surfing music, a lot of English rock. Then I saw Wes Montgomery and somehow that kind of turned me around. Later, Jim Hall made a big impression on me and I took some lessons with him. I suppose I play the kind of harmonic things Jim would play but with a sound that comes from Jimi Hendrix", Frisell, to Wire magazine, from his website.
This was not a typical jazz concert. Not only was it rarely head-solo-head, but it was sometimes difficult to tell when a new tune was beginning, and occasionally, the head was done in an unconventional way that made it not all that obvious that it even was a head. Most of the material was drawn from pop or folk songs (including "What the World Needs Now" and "Moon River," played back-to-back, followed by yet another 3/4 tune, which breaks the "rules" of concert programming...but it worked), as well as some melodies that I recognized but couldn't put a name to. (UPDATE: This DMN review from the next day was able to list a few more titles; I'll admit that, as I delve further into jazz, my pop-music illiteracy has grown.) There was really only one jazz standard, Monk's "Misterioso" at the beginning of the show, and the single twelve-bar blues had an interesting head which was laden with tritones.
1968 Played in the "McDonald's All American High School Band" at the Rose bowl Parade in Los Angeles and the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Went to a Charles Lloyd concert. The band included Keith Jarrett, Ron McClure, and Paul Motian. Heard Gary Burton, Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, and Dionne Warwick at a jazz festival at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
--from a timeline on Frisell's website. Also of note: He attended high school with several future founding members of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Frisell has been compared to Miles Davis in that both possess a distinctive, instantly-recognizable tone; the guitarist also was Davis-like in that he came within a few degrees of playing with his back to the audience and rarely spoke throughout the gig. His bandmates (UNT alum Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums) proved the perfect partners in this enterprise, always poised and ready to follow the leader in whatever direction he decided to take the music at that moment. The trademark tape-loops were used to good effect, often serving as a buffer between the end of one tune and the beginning of the next. One of the most amusing effects was when Frisell took a little toy music box and had put it up to his guitar, letting its tones resonate through the strings. I'm sure there were some people who were surprised by what they heard tonight, but, having just previewed one of his recent recordings (this group is the "East" part of the East/West designation), I knew exactly what to expect and was perfectly satisfied by what transpired.

This is definitely adventurous music which demands involvement from the listener. I salute the DMA for bringing a performer of this caliber to town; it was an evening well spent.

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