Guitar genius Bill Frisell‚ who leads an infinite number of groups and is forever dabbling in and borrowing from different genres‚ seems to never stop searching for new sounds.
A typical month sees Bill playing alongside trumpets and saxophones one week and with violins and cellos the next. By the end of the month he might be recording some mutation of country music with banjo and pedal steel players.
While anytime you go to see a Bill Frisell band perform you are in for a treat‚ for my money‚ nothing beats his trio with Tony Scherr on bass and the always entertaining Kenny Wolleson on drums. They are a band in the truest sense of the word. They have a palpable chemistry and seem to know both how to challenge one another and how to bring out the best in one another's playing. Tony and Kenny (who also make up the rhythm section of the great Sex Mob) can follow Bill anywhere. And Bill goes everywhere.
In just one set‚ the final of a week-long run at the legendary Village Vanguard‚ the trio touched on a laundry list of musical genres -- everything from bebop‚ country‚ rockabilly‚ rock and perhaps most often -- the blues.
Bill is a master of reimagining other people's songs as well as those from his own back catalog. One of the set's highlights was "Sittin' on Top of the World‚" the lead track from 2002's The Willies. On tape the song centers on a gently rolling banjo over which Bill lays warm guitar lines; yet last night's interpretation was backed by funky second-line style drumming that gave it a new life.
Another highlight was a cover of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Bill often does Dylan covers -- including gems like "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" -- but I had never heard this one before. It was gorgeous. Bill laid off the effects for the most part‚ instead relying on a clean tone and clever phrasing to really coax out the melody. It was worth the cost of admission alone.
The three players always leave plenty of room for one another‚ and the "noisy yet quiet" improvisations that act as segues between songs provided some of my favorite moments of the night.
The set ended with a lush take on the Burt Bacharach/Hal Davis song "What the World Needs Now is Love." It was another breathtaking moment as Frisell left notes hanging and looping all over the place. After walking offstage‚ the guys returned for an encore -- somewhat of a rarity at the Vanguard -- and that was it. After a quick bow and some onstage hugs‚ the three of them walked off‚ closing another successful run at the Vanguard -- on to the next gig‚ the next project and the next sound.