Few jazz guitarists combine versatility, originality, and eclecticism like 59-yearold Bill Frisell. He’s such a unique guitar voice, “jazz” seems too confining a category. And thanks to his open-mindedness, he’s as likely to crop up backing Americana artists Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez as he is to collaborate with jazz guitar stalwart Jim Hall – and bring something brilliantly unexpected to both parties.
And when he’s the one throwing the party, the results are equally satisfying – as in this trio outing, backed only by viola (Eyvind Kang) and percussion (Rudy Royston). A glance at the covers – from Benny Goodman’s “Benny’s Bugle” to Little Anthony & The Imperials’ “Goin’ Out Of My Head” to the Stephen Foster title tune – should be enough to make anyone with an adventurous streak RSVP. (Okay, enough with the party lingo.)
The thing is, none of the above sources would find Frisell’s treatments of their material jarring or inappropriate. Neither would the late Vincent Youmans (born in 1898), composer of the evergreen “Tea For Two” – nor would A.P. Carter upon hearing the trio’s updated-Appalachian version of “Keep On The Sunny Side.” And though Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” which has become a gospel and rock staple, is usually a study in intensity, Frisell’s spare arrangement is thoughtful without getting too cerebral.
Lest any of this sound too cute or like the “fine line between clever and stupid” (to quote Spinal Tap), it’s anything but. Frisell’s own compositions, from the Tin Pan Alley-ish “Sweetie” to the Creamlike “Worried Woman,” reveal the same organic feel of three top-flight musicians bouncing ideas off each other and adjusting their individual and collective paths when warranted. Maybe “jazz” is the most accurate category after all.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.