|Bill Frisell at JazzFest Berlin 2018
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
(Cadogan Hall, 18 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Gail Tasker)
Such was the captivating effect of Bill Frisell’s playing: although Cadogan Hall is a sizeable space, there was a feeling of intimacy and warmth that is rarely felt in venues of that capacity. He was seated above a patterned carpet that looked to be from his living room floor, surrounded by neatly positioned amps, mics, pedals, and a collection of stuffed animals in a corner – a recognisable Frisell quirk. And whilst cutting a diminutive figure on stage, Frisell more than filled the void with his constantly creative, hypnotic guitar playing.
From the moment he sat down, the guitarist seemed completely in the zone. Each song led seamlessly into the next, none of the music was discussed, and there were only a couple of gaps throughout the set to allow for applause. Frisell successfully enveloped himself and the listeners into a constantly shifting soundscape, sometimes of mellow, folk melodies, sometimes of distorted, dissonant chords of the contemporary classical realm.
In fact, the exciting thing about Frisell is that he goes beyond genres. The folk element was certainly central his playing, an accessible feature that had a nostalgic quality to it. But this was mixed in with a bluesy air that came out in his soloing, simple yet stirring. There was even a country feel, especially when he played the lower strings, helped along by his electric tone to create an old Cowboy Western film-time feel. And his influences seemed just as varied; as well as originals from his album Music IS, pieces from the set included Frisell’s interpretation of the Bond classic Goldfinger, (which appears on a recent and highly-recommendable ECM album Small Town, in duo with bassist Thomas Morgan), and the Beatles tune In My Life.
With the help of his array of pedals, Frisell kept the audience hooked with his variances in tone. Whilst most of the playing was muted yet crisp, a distortion pedal was employed at points. Frisell also used a freeze pedal to create drones upon which he would improvise, as well as a looping pedal which was used to layer melodies and create a jarring wall of sound. At points, this would descend into a mad swirl of other-worldy, high-pitched notes, showing that Frisell isn’t just about sweet, melodic phrasing and lush chords.
One of the many thrills of live jazz is witnessing the spontaneous musical interactions between players. It’s these interactions that lead to new ideas being formed, pushing the musicians into a new direction. For this reason, solo performances are arguably hit-and-miss. Yet, it takes someone like Bill Frisell, a true master of his craft, armed with nothing but a guitar and some pedals, to enthrall and mesmerise an audience for more than an hour and a half.