THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
By Tony Stasiek
On the nights heâ€™s not preparing CD No. 23, lending his ambient six-string tones as guest-star on album No. 190, 134 or otherwise assuming the life of a world-class jazz guitarist and master musician, Bill Frisell gets blown away.
Las incident? Jan. 28 an off day in the schedule that brings the 52-year-old Bainbrige Island resident and guitarist Greg Leisz to Western Washington Universityâ€™s Performing Arts Center Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Site of the blowaway: Seattleâ€™s Tractor Tavern. Sight: Vic Chesnutt, an impish, paraplegic Georgian know for his intimate song-strumming. He and Frisell met a few weeks prior, when they played a Randy Newman tribute concert in Los Angeles.
â€œWe sounded so great that I went out and bought a whole bunch of his records,â€ Frisell says. â€œNow Iâ€™m this huge Vic Chesnutt fan. What I like about all the greatest musicians is that they somehow found a really unique space to be in, and they put their own voice in it. Itâ€™s like he make this whole completely unique musical world for himself thatâ€™s just his own thing.â€
His heros did it, the Wes Montgomeries, the Miles Davises, the B.B. Kings. Frisell took their inspirations to the Berklee College of Music, then to New York, then to Seattle. Along the way, people have called him brilliant. Theyâ€™ve written extensive magazine features around him playing a single note. They regard his genre-jumping work as bright, bold, evocativeâ€“ all the things youâ€™d toss at Matesse and Miroâ€™.
Just donâ€™t expect him to throw them back. In real life, the kind thatâ€™s not recorded to disc, Frisell is as bold as a woodland creature. His voice has a Fred Rogers quality, spiced with intermittent pauses, as if heâ€™s waiting for another page to print.
Call it shyness: His folk/world-beat Nonesuch Records CD â€œThe intercontinentalsâ€ was nominated for a â€œbest world-music albumâ€ Grammy award earlier this month (Cesaria Evoraâ€™s â€œVoz Dâ€™Amorâ€ won), but Frisell didnâ€™t attend the ceremony.
â€œOh my God â€“ what would I even wear?â€ he says. â€œAnd I just didnâ€™t want to have to reschedule my concert for that night.â€
Itâ€™s not a comfortable fit. Itâ€™s a music event, sure, but heâ€™d rather stick to the music alone.
Thereâ€™s the jazz stuff. The world-beat of â€œThe intercontinentals.â€ The pop that showed up on Norah Jonesâ€™ â€œCome Away With Me.â€ The crazy stuff on John Zornâ€™s records. The rootsy licks he added to recent CDâ€™s from Danny Barnes and Laura Veirs and continues to find interesting in the work of Chesnutt and the Tractorâ€™s next-night headliner (and his latest blowaway), the Handsome family.
â€œI know it sounds corny, but thereâ€™s so much stuff that you can work through in music that doesnâ€™t hurt anybody.â€ Says Frisell, who started playing guitar at age 8 and acquired at least 20 since. â€œYou can express every kind of possible emotion, and all it does is bring people together.
â€œThatâ€™s been my whole life.â€