Saturday, 12 May 2018

Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan

I almost forgot to say: on Sunday evening last week BILL FRISELL was playing at the Turner Sims concert hall on the Southampton University campus and, naturally, I was there; in fact, the Prof bought our tickets in our favourite seats (left of centre, four rows back) way back in January as a birthday present. Accompanied by just Thomas Morgan on upright bass, he was playing what looked to be a standard Telecaster, plus an array of foot-operated effects; it's the first gig I've been to where audience members went down to the front during the interval simply to gaze reverently upon a single guitar and a set of pedals.

Obviously, it was brilliant. I've written about Frisell before, and have nothing much to add to what I wrote there. But, not having seen him play live before, I was struck once more by his Jekyll and Hyde personality. For a Guitar God, he might easily be mistaken for a particularly reticent music-shop assistant when not actually playing. Whereas the likes of, say, Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page look and dress the part (I bet they even wear leather pyjamas), Bill Frisell ... does not. But once he straps on that guitar he becomes an avatar of whatever deity supervises and inspires supreme musicality and effortless invention. Wow!

In one particularly spellbinding passage in the set played after the interval, they moved through Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy" to, of all things, the "Goldfinger" theme. Actually, "Goldfinger"  – once you disassociate Shirley Bassey's voice from it, which is not easy to do – is a wonderfully restless melody, with some unmistakable hooks and just the sort of scope for verging-on-parody twangy guitar that Frisell loves to play around with. In fact, there's another, nicely sleazy version by Dave Douglas (on his album A Thousand Evenings), where Guy Klucevsek's accordion really brings out its histrionic cocktail of tango and gypsy flavourings [1].

If you need an introduction to the man and his music, I see a video by Emma Franz, Bill Frisell: A Portrait, has recently been released (there's a nice trailer at the link), but there's plenty available free on YouTube and many of his albums are available on Spotify. My personal recommendations would be Blues Dream or Good Dog, Happy Man, but if you like inventive interpretations of familiar tunes, then Songs We Know (a jazzy "standards" collaboration with pianist Fred Hersch) or All We Are Saying (his John Lennon covers album) are hard to beat. And if you really want to challenge your ears, why not try his venture into modern classical, Richter 858? This is a musician with range, with depth, with mastery and an unmistakable personality, but with absolutely no leather trousers and a truly lamentable taste in jackets.

1. No, not that sort of Tango, idiot. Though I'm sure there must be some Tango-based cocktails.


Kent Wiley said...

Not that you would or should give a flying flock, but my comment about seeing Bill Frisell is that I saw him + band back in something like 2009 when he was supporting the "Disfarmer" album. Had never heard of Disfarmer, who turns out was a pretty interesting photographer. There were some nice prints displayed throughout the show. Hadn't really thought about it until reading your entry here. Worth a look at the images. Probably more memorable than the music. Which was fine.

Sorry to be so unenthusiastic. Feeling like a prime instance of an Idiot today.

Mike C. said...


No need to be apologetic -- not everything worthwhile need be to everyone's liking, and that's an odd project, anyway, an offshoot of his "Americana" period. Disfarmer is a curious case of Americana in his own right, rather like Ralph Eugene Meatyard.