THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

By Tony Stasiek

On the nights he’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 University’s Performing Arts Center Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Site of the blowaway: Seattle’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.

“We sounded so great that I went out and bought a whole bunch of his records,” Frisell says. “Now I’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. It’s like he make this whole completely unique musical world for himself that’s just his own thing.”

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. They’ve written extensive magazine features around him playing a single note. They regard his genre-jumping work as bright, bold, evocative– all the things you’d toss at Matesse and Miro’.

Just don’t expect him to throw them back. In real life, the kind that’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 he’s waiting for another page to print.

Call it shyness: His folk/world-beat Nonesuch Records CD “The intercontinentals” was nominated for a “best world-music album” Grammy award earlier this month (Cesaria Evora’s “Voz D’Amor” won), but Frisell didn’t attend the ceremony.

“Oh my God – what would I even wear?” he says. “And I just didn’t want to have to reschedule my concert for that night.”

It’s not a comfortable fit. It’s a music event, sure, but he’d rather stick to the music alone.

There’s the jazz stuff. The world-beat of “The intercontinentals.” The pop that showed up on Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me.” The crazy stuff on John Zorn’s records. The rootsy licks he added to recent CD’s from Danny Barnes and Laura Veirs and continues to find interesting in the work of Chesnutt and the Tractor’s next-night headliner (and his latest blowaway), the Handsome family.

“I know it sounds corny, but there’s so much stuff that you can work through in music that doesn’t hurt anybody.” Says Frisell, who started playing guitar at age 8 and acquired at least 20 since. “You can express every kind of possible emotion, and all it does is bring people together.

“That’s been my whole life.”