It is not always easy to find a contemporary jazz musician whose repertoire is not at least a slight throwback to a particular formula or style of any one of jazz’s great pivotal legends. What makes guitarist Bill Frisell an exception to this is his ability to carry a primarily jazz rooted sound to the next level and even manipulate it well beyond there.
Fusing together country and bluegrass harmonies, and adding accents of electric and soul-tinged guitar reverberations, Frisell achieves a sound that is cosmic and impressively multi-dimensional. Frisell and his accompanying mini-orchestra perform a selection of their work at GW’s Lisner Auditorium this Friday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m.
Those familiar with Frisell’s work over the past 10 years know that it can be difficult to categorize. Part of this is due to the wide range of styles and influences injected by each component of Frisell’s band of musicians including a bassist, percussionist, sax and trumpet players and a string section. This group of talented musicians who have performed with Frisell over the years have helped push Frisell’s compositions into territory that might seem unexpected for traditional jazz recordings.
Since his first exposure to music through clarinet lessons as a kid, growing up in Baltimore, Frisell has played with songwriting and compositional techniques that are enormously diverse yet still, however, grounded in a core jazz arrangement. Such versatility and focused talent as a composer, arranger and musician have earned him over a decade of collaborations with musicians including Loudon Wainwright III, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Bono, among many others. In addition, Frisell has contributed to various film projects and soundtracks including music for two of director Gus Van Sant’s films-“Finding Forrester” and the remake of “Psycho.”
The most recent crowning achievement for Frisell came in 2005 when he received the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his 2004 release “Unspeakable” (Nonesuch). Tracks off “Unspeakable” are among those that can be expected for Friday night’s performance.
Because “Unspeakable” is a primarily electronic and studio-based creation, Frisell’s live performances have been known to deviate slightly from the sound produced on the record. However far Frisell and his band’s live act may stray from the recorded sound, Friday night will no doubt offer a rare fusion of vintage and modern elements of jazz so unique that it is, simply, unspeakable.
Bill Frisell’s Unspeakable Orchestra performs at GW’s Lisner Auditorium Sunday, Nov. 17, 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-35. GW Students: $15.
This article appeared in the November 16, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.