By: Alex Anastas
Bill Frisell Trio :: 05.05.09 :: The Studio at the Sydney Opera House :: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Just hours before, Circular Quay's foreshore was most likely a scene of the tourism marketplace thriving, throngs of camera-toting wanderers and backpackers crowding for a view of the dropping sun behind the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Now night had fallen and nearby solitary suits quietly read their paper while sipping a G & T, couples shared a romantic drop of Aussie white complimented by a cheese board, and a bearded hipster sketched the bravely keen joggers floating by in the late autumn drizzle in between sips from his Stella. Yes, this perfect jazz sparseness in the forecourt lounge area just outside the Sydney Opera House set the stage for greatness to come later inside.
With the unobtrusive classic pings telling these revelers it was indeed time to make their way inside, the cocktail rounds fronting the stage, the all-red tiered theater seats and the square mezzanine seating above were now nearly full of anxious listeners. Bill Frisell, his classic white Fender Telecaster in hand, took the stage to appreciative applause for a spell-binding performance. Before playing a single note, Frisell, in Australia for both the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and these dates in the more intimate studio of the world famous venue, cordially introduced his fellow players, the lively Tony Scherr on upright bass and longtime collaborator Kenny Wollesen on drums.
Echoing the barely audible cries of a baby lorikeet stuck high in the rafters, the jazz legend diligently tuned up using subtle harmonics while his bassist tapped out rhythms on a music stand using his bow and the drummer kept time on a marimba. Slowly this discordant noise gave way to locked in beauty, the two string players matching each other note for note while Wollesen, positioned in-between, rallied them on like a referee between two boxers slugging it out. Kind smiles were exchanged at approximately the 15-minute mark after "Bitches Brew" cinematic textures lingered off into psychedelic ambient tones left on sustain. A constant throughout the evening was Frisell's eagerness to play with his many toys and pedals splayed out in front of him, often ending tunes in an effects driven loop.
The band then started getting down to some dirty blues business, communicating delicately while letting the man with his proverbial "name on the marquee" show off his distinct variety of deliberate styles. Fully aware of the percussive abilities of a guitar, Frisell was able to lay down distorted feedback that would make Hendrix smile while simultaneously picking up the pace on a warmly welcome take on Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?" Soon the suit jackets were being flung off, the sexy violet lights warmly shown down, and a particularly extended "Shenandoah" glimmered, a reggae-infused country-waltz. One audience member nearby proclaimed after, "This whole thing is so bloody climactic, man." So true.
Leading into the sixth tune of the night, Frisell once more demonstrated that he is not a man who takes himself too seriously as he used three miniature wind-up music boxes to set the tempo for the brooding "Lost Highway." This brought out some seriously contorted jazz "O" faces from both the band, Scheer in particular, and the seated crowd. A gorgeous and appropriately placed set closing "Sittin' on Top of the World" followed, proving far and away the most rockin' tune of the night.
|Bill Frisell Trio (l to r: Scheer, Wollesen & Frisell)|
The trio soon reappeared to stamping feet and thunderous applause, a stunning sight for this mostly demure Tuesday evening white-collared crowd. Frisell then told of a harbor-side busker who had earlier in the day brought tears to his eyes with "the best version of Mr. Tambourine Man" he had ever heard. Most in attendance, myself included, expected the Colorado native to launch into one of the many Minnesota bard covers in his repertoire. Instead, a moving version of his colleague Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now Is Love" was fittingly strummed out in tribute to the aforementioned street entertainer. The Bill Frisell Trio then finished the evening on an extremely blissful and lively tone with a maraca infused samba run on "Poem for Eva," leaving the audience wishing this talented threesome would stick around The Land of OZ for just one more autumn night.
Bill Frisell is currently doing a residency at Village Vanguard in NYC. Dates available here. And keep an eye on JamBase for a forthcoming feature/interview with Frisell!
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