Category: Bill Frisell

Guitarist Bill Frisell to play original scores for films of Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff at UCLA Live!

Bill Frisell Trio-Tony Scherr Kenny Wollesen by Jimmy KatzGuitarist Bill Frisell is nothing if not flexible. In the last month alone he’s been a virtual chameleon, having appeared last month at the Grammy Museum as part of the Majestic Silver Strings, roots musician Buddy Miller’s project interpreting new and vintage country songs, playing across Europe with his Disfarmer Project musical collective, then settling in for a two-week residency at the Village Vanguard in New York with his Beautiful Dreamers ensemble.

And then there’s the pair of gigs he’s doing Saturday at UCLA, where he’ll provide live accompaniment to three shorts by silent-film comedian Buster Keaton as well as a restored and psychedelically transformed '30s horror film.

For the UCLA Live! performances, the Bill Frisell Trio, also including bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen, will, for a 2 p.m. family matinee, play music that Frisell wrote almost two decades ago for Keaton’s 1920s comedies “One Week,” “The High Sigh” and “Go West.”  In the evening they’ll perform the Keaton scores again along with music for Bill Morrison’s “The Mesmerist” plus other music to accompany a display of illustrations by Seattle artist Jim Woodring.

Frisell created the music for the Keaton films in the early 1990s and has given select performances with screenings of those films since then -- but never in or near Hollywood, where the writer-director-performer known as the Great Stone Face did so much of his film work.

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The Majestic Silver Strings: A fresh spin on old country featuring Buddy Miller, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz

Majestic Silver Strings cover image

Two of the more idiosyncratic facets of the guitarist summit meeting of Buddy Miller, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz on “Buddy Miller’s The Majestic Silver Strings” album center on Ribot, the instrumentalist extraordinaire who has worked closely with Tom Waits for years, as well as Elvis Costello, T Bone Burnett and countless other musical tastemakers.

The two songs fall back-to-back on the album, which was released Tuesday: Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” and the old western classic “Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie,” alternately known as “The Dying Cowboy’s  Lament.”

Ribot came to Miller’s song while he was in the band Crackers in New York with Marc Anthony Thompson.  As performed by the composer, "Dang Me" was a jaunty ditty that reached the Top 10 of the pop chart in 1964. But on the album, Thompson makes a guest appearance and sings it as an ominous confession from a desperate man who’s almost literally at the end of his rope.

“I really started working professionally (sort of) as a musician in Maine in the late ‘70s, and having some country music in the set was de rigueur: We used to launch into ‘Folsom Prison’ or ‘Truck Driving Man’ whenever drunken lobster fishermen started to beat each other up--it was said to be therapeutic,” Ribot said in an e-mail exchange for a roundtable discussion with all four members of the Majestic Silver Strings that will be coming in Calendar on Tuesday.

“The funny thing is that at the time, I had never actually seen a country band perform--and I was only dimly aware of what a pedal steel did, so I tried to teach myself pedal-steel licks on guitar, with some interesting results ,” he said. “Later on I had a band in NYC with Marc Anthony Thompson (aka The Chocolate Genius) called Crackers in which we played harmelodic versions of country favorites and original compositions. I think Calvin Weston played drums with us on a couple of gigs.

“We never made a record, but his amazing version of Roger Miller’s ‘Dang Me’ (dang me, they oughta take a rope and hang me) is featured on the Majestic Silver Strings CD.”

It guides Miller’s lighthearted song into decidedly darker territory, much as Ribot’s arrangement of “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” does for a song rendered in so many old cowboy movies as a happy sing-along under a starry sky next to a blazing camp fire. As Ribot and his cohorts recast it, it becomes a haunting minor-key death-bed wish.

“Accidents--both happy and unhappy--seem to be part of my experience,” Ribot noted. “In the case of ‘The Dying Cowboy,’ producer, bass player and friend J.D. Foster knew of my interest in archival Americana, and lent me this copy of a 1930s printing of a book of ‘Cowboy Songs’.  I liked the lyrics to ‘Dying Cowboy’: kind of punk, you know? In fact, I’d heard the song before, so I read it through.

“I was surprised at the dirgy, depressing very non-cowboy chords of this version/arrangement,” he said. “Pretty soon I figured out that I was misreading it (chalk up another one for Harold Bloom).  In contemporary [musical] notation, a minus sign means minor chord; in the 30’s, it meant dominant 7th, a completely different vibe. But I liked it so much that I kept it minor, more or less threw out the original melody (ah, it’s good to be an American!)  and turned it into a kind of free-jazz cowboy raga.

“This was in 2003, and a few months later, I was on tour solo in Europe at exactly the week that the second Iraq war began,” Ribot recalled. “There were big protests against the war in almost every town I played. I don’t think most people here were quite aware of how [angry] most non-Americans were at the time.  Although I was of a similar opinion as most of the protesters, I didn’t feel comfortable turning a concert into a political harangue.  That old song about a young man dying on the desert said all I needed to say: ‘O bury me not, on the lone prairie.’”

The Majestic Silver Strings, which also includes bassist Dennis Crouch and percussionst Jay Bellerose, will make its only scheduled live appearance of 2011 on March 10 at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

--Randy Lewis



Buddy Miller gathers guitar greats for Majestic Silver Strings album, Grammy Museum show

Buddy Miller-Majestic Silver Strings 
Americana songwriter, singer, guitarist and producer Buddy Miller’s latest project, the Majestic Silver Strings, surfaces March 1 in a new album named for the stellar collection of players who join him: Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz.

In conjunction with the album’s release, the quartet of esteemed guitarists will make what’s billed as their only concert appearance together this year at a performance and question-answer session the following week at the downtown L.A. Grammy Museum.

At the March 10 session, they plan to discuss the album’s reinterpretations of country and folk music standards including George Jones' first hit, “Why Baby Why,” Eddy Arnold’s “Cattle Call,” Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” and the cowboy classic “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,” along with several originals. Among the guest vocalists on the album are Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, Lee Ann Womack, Chocolate Genius Inc. and Miller’s wife, singer-songwriter Julie Miller.

For the Grammy Museum show, Buddy Miller, who produced Robert Plant's latest album, "Band of Joy," Ribot, Frisell and Leisz will be backed by bassist Dennis Crouch and percussionist Jay Bellerose, who also play on the album. Tickets go on sale Friday at Ticketmaster or through the museum’s box office.

The album release will include a DVD with highlights of the only other performance by the Majestic Silver Strings, last year in Nashville.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of the Majestic Silver Strings, from left: Bill Frisell, Buddy Miller, Greg Leisz and Marc Ribot. Credit: Michael Wilson.

Live review: Bill Frisell Trio at Largo at the Coronet

Frisell400 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.

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Album review: Jim Hall & Bill Frisell's 'Hemispheres'

Hemispheres_240 There seems to be a perception in modern jazz that free playing must be harsh and grating or at least difficult to absorb on first listen. With a number of inside-out improvisations mixed with respectfully reshuffled standards, this jazz guitar summit between 50-year veteran Jim Hall and Americana-dusted experimentalist Bill Frisell dispels that notion.

The sprawling two-CD package offers a set of home-recorded duo explorations and another with Hall and Frisell backed by a sympathetic rhythm section. The pairing is most striking when the players allow their most unfettered whims room to flower, such as on the 15-minute spacescape, "Migration." Frisell's effects-pedal orchestra forms a hypnotic backdrop for Hall's most atmospheric impulses, while drummer Joey Baron adds a few unexpected rumbles and textures to the quartet's session.

Mostly, this bright, elegant collection sounds like everyone is trying desperately not to wake the neighbors as the two gracefully intertwining guitars lead the way. The results are warmly intimate if somewhat monochromatic, but it's an undeniably appealing color.

-Chris Barton

Jim Hall & Bill Frisell

* * * (three stars)


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