Loopy: Jazzy noodling casts a spell

Bill Frisell
at Starr Hill Music Hall
Tuesday, November 9

Bill Frisell coming to Starr Hill was an occasion special enough to draw me out of the warmth of my house on a chilly fall evening. Frisell is what you'd call a musician's musician. The music he composes doesn't have much mass appeal– it tends to be a little too "out there" for the casual listener– too much experimentation and noodling.


But for the player who stays up late nights scheming new ways of putting together chords or arranging a composition, he's an absolute godsend. Over the years, Frisell has risen beyond the level of an average jazz guitarist to create a sound so unusual and inclusive of western music styles that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what style of music he does.


At the end of the day, Bill Frisell plays Bill Frisell music. Ultimately, I believe, it's the goal all good musicians to attempt to transcend their influences and create something uniquely their own. In this regard, Frisell is an icon.


As I scanned the room Tuesday night, I saw what I expected to see: a swarm of jazz loyalists mixed with a cross section of Charlottesville's most respected contemporary music scholars. Basically anyone who knew who Bill Frisell was was in attendance.


Frisell took the stage just as a friend and I were finishing up a "The first time I heard a Bill Frisell album I was..." conversation. The stage was sparse: upright bass, three-piece drum kit, and guitar. On the floor next to Bill's feet were at least four different effects pedals. Sitting on a stool next to him was a loop pedal stacked on some sort of six-channel splitter device for his guitar. Throughout the show he used all them in the most tasteful ways imaginable.


The music started at an medium pace and continued that way for the majority of the show. As the drummer laid into steady driving swing rhythms, his pulse never wavered much. Instead of complex time changes and odd-time fills, he opted to just stay deep in the pocket with the upright bass to create an intensely hypnotic vibe.


Frisell seemed to be in a world of his own, playing alchemist with his tremolo, falange, and delay knobs. At times he seemed to be playing with the rest of the music; other times it was a mystery where he was going. With all the effects running and the various loops he was creating with his six channels, there came a point when I didn't know what he was playing and what had already been played and looped.


No matter how far he seemed to deviate, everything came back around to a melody that made sense. When that melody finally came in... well, there aren't many ways of describing it.


It was like all the layering and textures were spells being cast and that final melody would be the one to penetrate the subconscious mind and take over our movements, only to turn us all into minions to do his evil biddings... Or maybe it's too warm in here for the big jacket I have on... It's so damn cold outside... I wonder what my mother is doing... I should have called her... Never mind, she'll call on Thanksgiving... where am I going to eat Thanksgiving dinner?


Whoa, that was a sick little riff... he's screwing with the bass player now... How are they ever going to stay in time?...Is this old folks music?... There's no one under 25 here... Who cares? The music's good, their loss... (applause)... Oh, is the song over?...


I can't get up... must stay... must listen... can't help myself... under a spell... "play some more!"...(encore)...(second encore)...great friggin' show!


Bill Frisell