Bill Frisell’s The Intercontinentals and concert

Bill Frisell’s The Intercontinentals and concert

By Molly Fleming, Staff Writer

The name “Bill Frisell” usually draws blank stares in Rockford’s music community; if not, vague and ambiguous consent of recognition. I’ve been stressing his musical greatness to anyone and everyone who’ll listen for the past year, so it was to my delight when I found out about a double dose of Frisell’s music. The release of his new album The Intercontinentals was followed by the announcement of a performance at The Old Town School of Folk in Chicago and tears nearly welled up in my eyes. Not only did I snag a ticket for a front stage table, but I also listened to the CD religiously for a week before the concert. Some good advice would be to buy it now.

Frisell performed to a highly anticipatory audience Saturday, May 17, and the energy alone made the evening send static throughout the room. He is known for his eerie musicianship and for the ability to utilize effects on his guitar tastefully and with no overstatement. He generally uses loops to create atmospheres for his performance on acoustic and electric guitars. It is extremely difficult to describe a guitarist like Frisell without using earthly words, which cannot do justice to his extraterrestrial sound. The closest one could get to accurately giving an impression of his music is to say: narcotic, entrancing and dream-inducing.

Although filed under the “Contemporary Jazz” category at Borders and Media Play, these days that label is fairly meaningless. If the work has no lyrics and it’s not New Age or classical, “jazz” is immediately slapped onto it and it’s ready for sale. Frisell’s music is lyrical with few vocals, although on The Intercontinentals a few tracks feature vocal accents by Christos Govetas, Sidiki Camara and Vinicius Cantuaria.

The show…

The evening’s opening act featured fiddler/guitarist/banjo player Bruce Molsky. He performed extremely traditional old American square dance and Appalachian tunes and was joined by Frisell on his last song. It set the right atmosphere for what was to come, as the tunes were clean, straightforward and familiar, which complemented Frisell. There was no mention of an album by Molsky, but there is sure to be some information about him online.

Although most in the audience were hoping Frisell would bust out his highly-recognized version of “Moon River,” he strayed away from the standards and performed a few tunes from The Intercontinentals. At one point, I noticed that I had fallen into a daydream like state and jerked myself back to consciousness only to realize that I hadn’t missed a note. Such is the power of Frisell, who can guide you and lull you into temporary time warps with his alien effects and soft, strange note sequences. His melodies are beautiful and easy to relate to; not pretentiously off-the-wall and so “out there” that the listener can’t understand the development of what’s happening on stage.

Frisell was joined by a drummer and bassist (whose names escape me), who did no more than provide a rhythm section for him. No solos, no show-offs, just respectful backup, which was disappointing to some but appropriate to most. The audience came to hear Bill Frisell, not an adulterating band. But let there be no misunderstanding; a tight trio or band whose members are all featured equally is great. However, when a performer has such a distinctive sound as Frisell, and a fan dishes out $25 to hear him play with fairly unknown musicians, it’s understandable that there is little focus on the other performers.

The two encores, which the audience bellowed for loudly, staggered listeners. He toyed with the crowd by making allusions and quotes of “Moon River,” in the development, before launching into an entirely different melody. All around, it was the best concert I’ve seen so far this year.

The Intercontinetals are…

One might notice a theme in the musicians on The Intercontinentals. Not only do they play an array of instruments originating from different parts of the world, but their names also hint at a well-chosen consistency. Sidiki Camara introduces himself on calabash, djembe, congas, percussion and vocal tracks. Vinicius Cantuaria accents Frisell on electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, drums, and percussion. The oud and bouzouki are played by Christos Govetas, who also adds some vocals. Another dimension of strings is contributed by Greg Leisz on slide and pedal steel guitars, and Jenny Scheinman on violin. And as the director of all this musicianship, Bill Frisell leads on electric and acoustic guitars, loops and bass.

The album is one of the best to come out this year; it’s fresh, new and extremely hip stuff. Stripping aspects from various cultural music forms, The Intercontinentals still cannot be cheapened by the term “world music.” Every influence raging from Latin and African rhythms to American folk and Eastern melody is clearly cut and distinctive, as opposed to being generically muddled together to create the ambiguously “ethnic” noise of many alleged cultural groups. The other great part about this CD is that no song lasts longer than it ought to. The longest of tracks is a mere 7 minutes, 6 seconds, which is the approximate time it takes for a person’s ears to fully register the intricate designs of this album.

Frisell’s last album with Alvin Jones & Dave Holland (self-titled) was a great preview to The Intercontinentals. You can’t miss either at the music storewith their distinctive cover art featuring creepy drawings of alien-like creatures, or on the latest, a pale green turntable reminiscent of an old 1950s Zenith Hi-Fi.

Oh, and a quick note, one of the other great artists besides Jones and Holland whom Frisell has collaborated with in the past was John Scofield, who will be playing at Kryptonite in July. Keep your eyes open for the interview TRRT hopes to score sometime in June.

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