Every time I see guitarist Bill Frisell he surprises me with the amount of subtlety and patience in his playing. I often think that every musician could benefit from being influenced by him - even if it was the tiniest amount. It just makes sense: so many of the choices he makes are dead on‚ and yet he's never predictable. Playing with his trio‚ bassist Tony Scheer and drummer Kenny Wollesen‚ at Higher Ground was a constant reminder of that.
The show opened with a lot of dissonance - first Frisell picked a few harmonics‚ then he twirled a music box against the pickups of his Telecaster and looped it through a reverse delay pedal. All of sudden the contrast was created; happy child-like sounds turned into a dark‚ psychedelic playground filled with uncertainty when finally Wollesen and Scheer dropped the bottom end in. And they play freely‚ even as they slowly landed into the composition‚ "Ron Carter." The two note bass line served as a mere suggestion for both Frisell and Wollesen's playing - an edgy and perfect way to begin.
And we were off and running. The show was one good story after another‚ covering a lot of different sounds that Frisell has tapped into over the course of his career. More recent output‚ like "1968" from Unspeakable‚ and "Baba Drame" of The Intercontinentals‚ as well as few compositions from the 90's era Frisell that permanently attached "Americana" to his name in a similar vein as "Jazz." The diverse selection of compositions didn't deter the flow of the show either. You can attribute that to just how much chemistry this trio has playing together - rarely do you see and hour and a half of instrumental dialogue that is interesting the entire time.
A perfect example of that chemistry occurred when the trio jumped into Thelonious Monk's "Raise Four." The odd‚ repetitive six note head on this tune was a great theme for group improvisation. Bill played the line while both Scheer and Wollesen came to forefront and took the lead. But what really made this tune standout so brilliantly is that they built it up to a massive crescendo and after the peak‚ they played around the same theme super quietly. The astonishing factor is that both sections were equally intense.
The trio encored with three cover songs that segued into one another‚ Whitfield/Strong's "I Heard through the Grapevine‚" Bob Dylan's "Masters of War‚" and finally‚ a beautiful take on Lucinda Williams'‚ "I Envy the Wind." Remarkably‚ the story felt complete - just like it should be. Honest‚ egoless and real; motivated by nothing more than the music. My lady summed it up best about this kind of experience: Seeing the Bill Frisell Trio play is a reminder that most of the time the coolest music you'll ever hear is usually played by people that don't care about being cool.