SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS

In Concert : The buddy system really works here : The
buddy system really works here

January 16, 2008
By Josef Woodward


Guitar great Bill Frisell returned Saturday to Lobero Theatre, joined by comrade and drummer Joey Baron.

The buddy system really works here Bill Frisell, Joey Baron tag team for great jazz show at Lobero In what was the first great concert of the new year, guitar hero Bill Frisell returned Saturday to Lobero Theatre's stage for a second visit. This time, the occasion was a bodacious and poetic duet with drummer Joey Baron.

Quite aside from the musical specifics of the evening, the first strong impression was that Mr. Frisell and the Lobero have got to go on meeting like this. Somehow, the deceptively calm demeanor of Mr. Frisell's playing and the history-caked sophistication and intimacy of the Lobero facilitate a match made in jazz heaven.

Fears of undue leanness were quickly banished as Mr. Frisell and Mr. Baron launched into the first painterly, loopy passage of the concert, and during the rambling course of the show, a bounty of music was made by this dynamic duo. Obviously, a deep rapport is shared by these players, whose actual history goes back to the mid-1980s, in John Zorn's infamous Naked City and in Mr. Frisell's bands. Although they haven't played together much in the past decade, Saturday's concert demonstrated how easily the empathy picks up where it left off. A full-on reunion is well in order.

Among the qualities they share is a broad musical vocabulary, the subtlety of gestures, a love of space, gentle experimentalism and sly humor. They both love to move in sideways motions around traditions and song forms -- even when it's courtesy of Burt Bacharach, whose classics "Alfie" and "What the World Needs Now is Love" were concert highlights.

And the duo shies away from in-your-face musical statements, but bursts forth with dynamic moments when you least expect them. Instead of brandishing hubris or excessive virtuosity, they kill with kindness, with wit (as on Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso") and a special glow of introspection when it comes time for abstraction and ballads ("Alfie," for instance, was to die for).

All night, the brilliant Mr. Baron often erred on the side of keeping it cool, but would unleash his melodic fury in measured doses without ever venturing into overkill or even full-scale drum solo territory.

Song wise, the Frisell-Baron show covered a remarkable stylistic waterfront of American music. In one medley, the duo moved from a slow, Delta bluesy arrangement of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" -- with some acid rock flashback moments tossed in the middle -- and into a fairly straight version of Sam Cooke's anthemic soul song "A Change is Gonna' Come."

Out of that soul moment, Mr. Baron kicked into a swing groove, Mr. Frisell cleaned up his tone and they spun beautiful circles around a twisted version of Cole Porter's "I Love You." In that bebop-laden workout, the duo's deep jazz credentials soared. Mr. Frisell's typical hunt-and-peck phraseology gave way to smooth, exploratory bop lines, suggesting the influence of both his mentor Jim Hall (who was on this stage a year ago) and the late, great Wes Montgomery.

For the final encore, Mr. Frisell pulled out one of his specialties: Henry Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses," as only Mr. Frisell could play it, colored by the seeming effects of both wine and roses and some attitude from far to the left of jazz tradition. As a final wink of a musical joke, Mr. Frisell softly played a teasing hint of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," as a short coda.

At evening's end, the two generously grinsome musicians hugged, seeming to humbly acknowledge that good music was made on this stage on this night. That was the consensus feeling in the room. Don't be a stranger here, Mr. Frisell.