Live review: Bill Frisell Trio at Largo at the Coronet
Not many words were said from the Largo at the Coronet stage Tuesday night. Armed with a new trio featuring frequent collaborator Kenny Wollesen on drums and celebrated New York pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Bill Frisell was mostly mum apart from some humorously incredulous comments regarding Hank Williams being awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize (taking issue with the timing, not the honor).
Of course, given what was transpiring, there really wasn’t much that needed to be said. Though celebrating the country legend isn’t a surprise move for Frisell, an innovative player who’s been constructing a rather beautiful bridge between the worlds of instrumental jazz and country for years. But what was a welcome treat was hearing Frisell stretch out in ways that moved well beyond his usually elegant, Americana-informed comfort zone.
Driven in no small part by the ever-restless Moran and Wollesen, who has played with the raucous New York jazz party-band Sex Mob, Frisell showed a different side from last year's performance of the rustic chamber-jazz of his compelling Disfarmer project. Instead, the veteran guitarist flexed the searching and dissonant playing that lay at his roots with downtown New York fixtures such as Joey Baron and John Zorn.
Running his weathered Telecaster through a variety of effects, Frisell opened one song with a warped, backward-sounding tone that captured an almost mechanized heaviness while Wollesen fell into a clattering, street-repair groove. Moran, seemingly always on the verge of breaking loose throughout the evening, burst into his solo with a rapid-fire flurry of notes that seemingly exploded from his piano. Never entirely settled, the song coursed through a variety of mutations before Moran boiled the song down to a bright melody that flirted with gospel.
A celebrated musician in his own right whose prior albums landed on a number of decade-ending best-of lists, Moran seemed equally energized by Frisell, showing a more aggressive and playful side than his recent, more atmospheric recording with Paul Motian and Chris Potter. Alternating at one point with Frisell on a melancholy, four-note melody, Moran kicked the song open with few stern karate chops into the keys with his right hand, venturing out on a number of quick, angular excursions over Wollesen’s colorful work on cymbals. Watching the pair tangle from the side of the stage, Frisell clenched his hands and beamed like a kid with a new toy.
While many of the night's numbers felt richly unfamiliar and open-ended, Frisell also led his trio through new takes on his catalog. One song from Frisell’s Mali-informed “The Intercontinentals” picked up a light, accelerated pulse, while “Verona,” big, bluesy track from Frisell’s 1998 trio record “Gone, Just Like a Train,” was taken to church on an anthemic turn by Moran.
Gilding the trio’s adventures with a variety of loops sampled from his guitar and, most atmospherically, a field recording of bird calls at one point, Frisell kept pushing the trio into new and undiscovered territory throughout the night, and the whole group looked to be having a blast with what it found. While no plans are in place yet for this trio to record, one can only hope that this isn't the kind of fun that comes around only once.
-- Chris Barton
Photo: Bill Frisell performing at Royce Hall in 2007. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times