Bill Frisell Beautiful Dreamers Trio
(Sage Gateshead, Hall Two. Last Night of Gateshead International Jazz Festival. 6th April. Review by Rob Edgar)
Guitarist Bill Frisell is delightfully incapable of following the rules; the instrumentation of his Beautiful Dreamers trio with drummer Rudy Royston and multi instrumentalist Eyvind Kang (here on viola) is unusual, probably unique.
If Saturday’s McCormack / Yarde concert was a lesson in economy of material, last night was all about extravagance: the set had an ethereal start, Royston gently flicking his kit with his Tala Wands, Kang was performing long double stops and Frisell’s crunchy, chorusy guitar faded in and out with chords that were at once tonal and atonal. It had a gentle meandering quality, and the group are not trying to create immediate impact with their playing, preferring to inhabit a certain register or technique, gradually allowing the ideas to unfurl.
They played some standards, most notable of which was Days of Wine and Roses, but it was never immediately revealed what tune they were launching into, they would instead ‘preludise’ the themes, hinting at the melody here and there and pare down the harmony to its bare bones. Kang provided walking basslines whilst Frisell launched into some severe chord work and fragmented polyphony, splitting lines up into different registers; once he’d played something at the bottom of the neck, he could already – quick as a flash – be up at the top. It eventually launched into a frenetic duet between violin and drums interspersed with twangs from Frisell.
The most notable thing about Frisell’s music is that lots of his ideas just shouldn’t work: he and Kang would play long melodies that went on for too long, two seemingly completely independent phrases would be going on concurrently between Kang and Frisell, he is also the ultimate musical egalitarian who blends Americana, hard rock, jazz, and pop tunes; he uses electric guitar-hero clichés, and at one point he began a piece when he was still in the process of tuning. His music could so easily sound verbose, but everything comes with his own personal stamp which is difficult to pin down, and because everything he plays is so clearly genuine, without a shred of conceit, it just works.
At the end of his set, I remember thinking it was a bit short before I checked my watch and realised they’d been playing for a full hour and half.