Best of birthdays to guitarist Bill Frisell, who turns 63 today. Most people who would read this blog don’t need me to say much about him. But on the personal tip, I’ve admired Frisell’s unique sound and concept since the early ’80s, when he first recorded with Joe Lovano in the Paul Motian Trio, and that decade with John Zorn’s Naked City. During my years at WKCR, I was fortunate to have a number of opportunities to host him on-air, several times by himself, once in dialogue with Paul Motian, another time in dialogue with trumpeter Ron Miles, his old friend and fellow son of Denver.
I’ve posted below my “directors’ cut” (about 1500 words longer) of a DownBeat cover piece I wrote about Bill and his long-standing trio partners Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen, during a week in Perugia for the 2008 Umbria Summer Jazz Festival. I’ve also appended the uncut proceedings of a Blindfold Test that he took with me around 2000 or 2001, in his extraordinarily cramped room at the former Earle Hotel on the corner of Waverly Place & MacDougal, on the northwest corner of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.
Bill Frisell Trio in Perugia, Downbeat, 2008:
At midnight on the first Sunday of the 2008 Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, an impromptu party was in full swing on the cobblestoned streets outside Teatro Pavone, a horseshoe-shaped, five-tiered acoustic marvel with with a giant sunflower chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It opened in 1740, when Perugia was still an independent city-state, as the gathering place for the local aristocracy. In response, forty years later, a consortium of Perugia’s merchants converted an abandoned nunnery perhaps a quarter mile down the hill into the grander, showier Teatro Morlacchi, a 785-seater with ceiling frescoes.
Inside, however, about 250 listeners paid close attention as the Bill Frisell Trio, with bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen, positioned themselves on stage to begin a six-night run.
Smiling, Frisell touched a pedal with his black-shoed foot. Nachtmusik birdsong plinks came forth, resonating against the old wood facades. For the next several minutes, Frisell followed the sounds, weaving an abstract web of tone color—whispery one moment, skronky the next. He inserted electronic sounds into the dialog with pedal taps and dial switches. Wollesen scraped his snare drum, hand-drummed on his hi-hat and stroked a gong on a tree of little instruments placed next to his kit. Gradually, a familiar melody emerged. Scherr inferred a walking bass line, and the tempo began to coalesce from rubato to meter. Then, on a dime, Frisell launched the melody of Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso.”
This launched a free-associative, genre-spanning suite of songs, each declarative melody transitioning into another—“Moon River,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “You Are My Sunshine,” Monk’s “Jackie-ing,” Charlie Christian’s “Benny’s Bugle,” Boubacar Traoré’s “Baba Drame” and Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee.” Seemingly able to call up guitar dialects ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Mali to Charlie Christian at a moment’s notice, Frisell went for equilateral triangle dialog, simultaneously feeding information to and drawing it from Scherr and Wollesen. The band displayed implacable patience, grabbing sounds, constructing lines and creating musical flow from the environment. If you thought about it a certain way, you might reflect on how the architects and painters who created the look of Perugia between the 12th and 18th centuries responded to the particular light of the Perugian sky and the planes of its topography when they conjured their images and structures. You might also reflect on the ingenuity and learning that went into their designs, and the amount of labor that went into actualizing the final product.
In November, the Bill Frisell Trio will tour Europe playing to movies—music from Frisell’s Buster Keaton and Jim Woodring projects, and also to a new film by Bill Morrison, who on a previous work used Frisell’s eponymously entitled 2001 encounter with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones as soundtrack music. “It will completely take us out of a lot of the things we’re playing now, force us to deal with a different batch of music, and push us into another zone,” Frisell said. “In some ways, it’s more restrictive, but I’ll have to figure out a way to keep it from being a show, where we do the same thing every night.”
Frisell, Scherr, and Wolleson sat around the same table in the same wood-paneled adjunct of the Rosetta Hotel dining room. That night, they would play their fifth concert of the week.
“I’m writing music with no parameters, which I love,” Frisell continued. “Having the film there boxes you in, in a certain way, but those limitations sometimes will push you out into someplace you’ve never been. It’s another way to get pushed into moving ahead.”They quickly turned the subject matter to qualities described in our one-on-one conversations—mutual intuition, shared language, trust.”
“The time between our gigs always seems too long, but when we get back together we start almost beyond where we left off,” Scherr said. “The conversation just keeps going. I’ve always liked being in bands that really develop something together, like when my brother and I would put together a rock band. and we’d find a drummer, and play, and it would really click, and we’d learn a lot all of a sudden and be real excited about it, and you just couldn’t wait til the next time you played. When people play music together and travel, you get in close quarters, and people’s personalities come out. A thematic language—literal language—goes around the band, a couple of terms that get used for the entire trip or something, a running joke or a running topic. Then the next trip you find new ones. Sometimes it gets totally ridiculous, like that day in Peekskill when we started playing all the major tunes minor and all the minor tunes major. It was so silly, and it had everything to do with who we are. Those kinds of things emerge when you’re not worried about making mistakes, and you’re coming up with ridiculous things because it’s fun. The music becomes less precious and opens up— you feel free to demolish stuff together, and it’s totally okay.”
Scherr gave an example.
“On a lot of tunes we’ll go through the form, and although I’m not thinking about it this way while we’re doing it, it’s like playing a game,” he continued. “For instance, at a certain point on ‘Keep Your Eyes Open’ there’s a little melody, a chord, another little melody, and a downbeat. We’ve played that tune for years, and it’s almost unbelievable how many different ways we can play that chord—a snotty little swipe at it, or a broad, beautiful way of hitting it. Often it’s being open enough to just SEE how we’re going to do it, and toss it back and forth. Sometimes it’s as simple as hitting one note or one chord together on the first beat of the measure. When I first played with Bill, I paid a lot of attention to that. Now that notion has expanded to trying not to think, just to support the new thing I hear, whatever it is, and not answer the question before it needs to be answered.”
“What you play can be determined by the way things bounce around in the room,” Frisell said. “Every day is different, even in the same room—the number of people, the air, the humidity.”
“Bill will start playing a song because something is going on in life, and usually the lyric is totally relevant,” Scherr added. “To me, listening to him is the same as listening to a person I know talk, or hearing a singer.”
“In this group, I’m trying to sing the song on the guitar,” Frisell agreed. He referenced a 2003-2005 engagement as musical director of the Germany concert series, Century of Song, in which the trio joined various singers—among them Rickie Lee Jones, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, Vic Chestnutt, Loudon Wainwright, and Chip Taylor—in creating new arrangements of iconic repertoire.
“I talked about trying to copy Pat Martino or John McLaughlin years ago,” he continued. “Now it’s more about I’m trying to copy Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke or Hank Williams. We’ve played “Lovesick Blues” a couple of times and I’m playing what I got from trying to get even these little nodal things he does with his voice, which is sort of impossible.”
“Bill’s got the meaning of the tune, too,” Scherr said. “Well, there is no one meaning for any tune. We played ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ a bunch of different ways, a bunch of times. But I always feel that tune means whatever it means that day, and that’s where it’s living. It’s got a lot of room to be played.”
Lunch was ready, so it was time to clear out, get on with the day, prepare for the evening’s concert. “None of this is secret,” Frisell said. “But it’s this weird, super-intimate thing that we don’t talk about. For me, playing is as close as you can get to another human being. I don’t think whatever we’ve tried to say will break anything, but it’s not remotely close to what’s happening as we’re doing it.”
* * * *
Bill Frisell Blindfold Test:
1. Richard Leo Johnson, “Sweet Jane Thyme,” LANGUAGE (Blue Note, 2000) (Johnson, 12-string and pedal steel guitar) – (4 stars)
Holy moly! Oh my God. I have no idea who that is. [How did it sound to you?] It was…nice. I’m trying to…I’m baffled by… It reminded me of some things that I’ve heard, like, Leo Kottke do, and there was a tiny bit of some of the things that Daniel Lanois did with Brian Eno back a ways, like the sort of secondary…whether it was a steel guitar or the kind of echoey, shadowy guitar behind the acoustic guitar. But I have no idea who that is. [Was it one or two players? How many guitarists?] I don’t know if it was overdubbed. But there were at least two, I think. [LAUGHS] There was…was it a 12-string? [There was one guy on a 12-string in real time.] It sounded like there was a 12-string and then some kind of more atmospheric electric guitar as a background, the sort of cloudy sound… [He was playing a pedal steel and a 12-string, so there were two guitars overdubbed.] But there was one person. [One person. He has a technique to create several voices. Did you like the song?] Yeah, it was nice. It didn’t like knock me out. It was really cool and pleasant to listen to.
I have to think about how I’m going to do the stars. Because to me, anybody who has decided to play music should get five stars, I think. [That said, there are gradations and…] [LOUD LAUGH] You’re trying to get me to… [I’m not trying to get you to slam anybody. But the Blindfold Test is what it is. If you want to give everyone a blanket five stars…] I really don’t like… Well, there’s things I like and things I don’t like, and I think certain things suck, just like everybody else. But I still…somehow… I don’t like the idea of competition in music. Also, with what I just heard, it kind of…I couldn’t place what… I don’t know where it’s coming from or what it is. I don’t know if I would think it was better or worse depending on where it was coming from. I could almost hear in a film. [He laid down guitar tracks, then he sent the guitar tracks to various improvisers, and they each laid down their tracks on top of his guitar track. (ETC.) His name is Richard Leo Johnson.] I’ve never heard of him. [This is his second record. He plays different guitars, and he’s a virtuoso, but he only started playing full-time four years ago. He’s 45. And he’s from Arkansas, the north Delta. He’s self-taught.]
It made me be curious to hear how that is juxtaposed to other things on the record. That’s something I would go do on my own now. I guess I’m going to have to give it five stars… [If you give 4 stars to something that doesn’t knock you out, but you like and respect it, you’re really not insulting the musician.] Okay, I’ll give it four stars. [I think if you’re going to agree to do the Blindfold Test…] I did it once before, and I gave everybody 5 stars. But also, everything was Jim Hall and Jimi Hendrix and Wes Montgomery. Maybe I’ll give it 4. Maybe that rating system will assert itself as we go along.
But a lot of it is context. I could see this being in a film or something, or seeing it up against something else where it might be very powerful…
2. Jim Hall-Pat Metheny, “Django,” BY ARRANGEMENT (Telarc, 1995) (Hall-Metheny, acoustic guitars) (5 stars)
That’s “Django,” I can tell you that. [at 3:35] Oh, I think I finally got who this is. [at 5 minutes] I guess I’m ready to talk. Is there a string quartet? From the first moments of these strings, I thought…Jim Hall was what came into my mind, something in the sound of the writing. Then I started listening, and I hear one guitar and another guitar, and I didn’t recognize the sound. But when the first guitarist started playing nylon string guitar, it took me longer than what I thought it should too… I heard a bit of Pat Metheny stuff going on in there, and then I figured that’s got to be Pat playing nylon string guitar. Then I figured… They did a duet record, but this isn’t that, so this must be Jim’s record where he did these arrangements, and the song, “Django”… [Absolutely.] Thank God I got that right. But it was kind of confusing, because sonically it was so strange. First I thought it was an old recording… I thought Jim Hall, and I heard the strings and I thought maybe this was going to be one of those things Jim did with Gunther Schuller years ago or something like that. But it’s interesting how, without him playing, it fired some kind of response in my brain that me think Jim Hall right away. I don’t know if it’s because I’m expecting at some point I’m going to hear Jim Hall in a blindfold test. So I figured out it was Pat playing nylon string, and then Jim later playing acoustic guitar, which you don’t hear that often. Also, I’ve never heard him make that much racket, singing along, groaning… Sonically they both sounded quite a bit different than you’re used to hearing. But that was cool. So now I have to give it stars. That I’ve got to give 5. The tune and that he could figure out something else to do with that tune, and those guys… That was great. And it was cool to be that confused by… Those guys I’d figure I could recognize in two notes anywhere. Is that on the record “By Arrangement”? I should have known it right away.
3. John McLaughlin, “Only Child,” TIME REMEMBERED (Verve, 1993). (McLaughlin, acoustic guitar, The Aighetta Quartet, acoustic guitars, Yan Maresz, acoustic bass guitar) – (5 stars)
The first thing that came into my mind was I couldn’t tell how many guitars were playing, and there’s a very low-tuned guitar, and I didn’t recognize the tune. But then as soon as the soloist started… I was thinking, “What is this?” Does someone have a 7-string? It almost sounded like it could have been Johnny Smith or George Van Epps, that beautiful, just lush… I couldn’t tell how many guitars were in there. Then as soon as my man started playing, I knew it was John McLaughlin playing Bill Evans songs with a guitar quartet. I might even have this record. [You played some of these songs with Paul Motian.] Well, I’m not sure if I played this tune. But I thought it sounded just exquisitely beautiful. He keeps on being one of my heroes. He keeps holding up. Every time I hear him…sometimes I think he gets taken for granted a little bit. He’s just a monster. I remember going to hear him in Seattle a couple of years ago, and it kind of hit me in the face how heavy he is! I don’t know what to say. It was so beautiful to hear that orchestration, lush, thick… Whoever arranged that, it was really beautiful, just listening to the kind of written part and then real kind of moving, and when he started playing it was… He always blows my brains out. There was one moment when I went to a Shakti concert, and I almost quit playing the guitar. I just thought, “Man, this is hopeless.” But it was a good moment because it made me figure out that I had to figure out something else to do other than that. I’ll never be able to… But he’s so much more… He’s known for being, you know, fast, but he’s a soulful… And rhythmically and harmonically, so…it’s some far-out stuff he’s doing. I can’t figure out why people don’t… He’s right in there in that line of… There’s Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery and Jim and whoever all other guys, and he’s one of those main guys for me. Five stars.
4. Derek Bailey, “Tears of Astral Rain,” ARCANA: THE LAST WAVE (DIW, 1995) (Bill Laswell, electric bass; Tony Williams, drums) – (5 stars)
It’s hard to talk and listen. I think it’s Derek. The thing that’s confusing me is… I’m going to just guess. There’s Derek who I sort of got right away. The other is maybe a guitar, but sounds… Is it Bill Laswell? Because it sounds like a 6-string… It’s higher than a bass. The distorted one is sort of… And I know Bill Laswell does that 6-string bass thing, so it must be that. Then I know that they did a thing with Tony Williams. I kept thinking that sounds like Tony Williams’ tom-tom or something. It sounds like Tony Williams. But I didn’t hear him do his Tony Williams yet! I kept listening to be sure is that Tony. The sound of the drums, it sounds like Tony Williams, but he was playing so
minimally. This was also really cool, the way the thing moved forward. There was this feel, this forward rhythmic motion. You can’t say 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. It’s interesting how just with the sound, they have that…a person’s sound… I heard a tom-tom, and it sounded like Tony Williams. Is there more than one… I heard some of this, and it was really edited, and it sounded like they didn’t really put… The other thing about what I just heard is it really sounded like they were playing together in the same room. The thing that I heard sounded much more pieced-together, like Derek overdubbed or they used a Tony drum track. Maybe this was done that way, too. I’m not sure. But as I was listening, I at least felt like I was in the world of being in the same room with these guys playing. Either it was pieced together really great or they were actually playing together. But I think I heard that they weren’t all playing together when they did this. That’s got to be 5 stars.
5. Jimmy Bruno-Joe Beck, “Lazy Afternoon,” POLARITY (Concord, 2000) – (Bruno, acoustic 6-string; Beck, alto guitar) – (4 stars)
I don’t know what the tune is, but I know I’ve heard it somewhere. I’m going to make a wild guess. I don’t really know these people. One of the guitars has to be a 7-string or something; it sounds really low. I heard something on the radio, and this sort of reminds me of it. It’s not Joe Beck and Jimmy Bruno? I might even have heard this song on the radio. I don’t know Joe Beck’s playing… He’s one of those guys who’s been around forever, and he’s been on a lot of records in real supportive ways, since the ’60s. His name is always around, but it’s not like I hear a sound. Recently I’ve been hearing about Jimmy Bruno. Talk about technique, he’s probably the most monstrous… But then I had heard a little bit of Jimmy Bruno, and I was surprised that he seemed more restrained… See, I don’t know him well enough even to know… I’m sort of assuming that on this tune Joe Beck was probably playing the melodic part and Jimmy Bruno was doing a lot of quite involved bassline and… [Oh, Joe Beck was playing that on the alto guitar.] Oh, he was. I was thinking that if Jimmy Bruno had been playing the melodic part, it would have been twice as fast. I heard some live thing with a bass-drum trio that was just off the scale of super fast tempo which was like how could you possibly do that… So I figured out what it was. But that’s one of those guesses, thinking I’d heard this on the radio and I’d kind of heard about this guy. It wasn’t based on knowing their sound; it was more an intellectual piecing-together. It was pleasant. It didn’t kill me or anything. It was kind of easy… It didn’t wrench my guts out, so I’ll have to go 4. But they definitely certainly play their instruments. I guess there’s a thing with the guitar. I mean, who am I to say… They can play circles around me as a guitarist. I mean, they really play their instruments. But I would maybe have liked to hear… The tune didn’t kill me or something. Maybe if I’d heard them playing a tune that was richer, it would have been…
6. A.D.D. Trio, “Three Characters, A.D.D. TRIO: SIC BISQUITIS DISINTEGRAT (Enja, 2000) (Christy Doran, guitar; Robert Dick, flutes; Steve Arguelles, drums) – (5 stars)
This is a guess again. Is it Sonny Sharrock? Then I’m lost. I don’t know. I really like the feel of the drummer, but I’m pretty well lost on this. I might be getting in trouble here? Is it possible that that’s Kenny playing drums? I like this piece a lot. But I have no idea who it is. [AFTER] Oh, Steve Arguelles! I know him and I like him. There was one moment I thought Robert Dick, but most of what I’ve heard of him is solo things or concert recitals, not in this… I like the feel. Was the guitar generating some kind of loop? I like the way the drums were interacting with that…the bass drum. There was a moment where I thought about Joey Baron. He had this super-low-tuned bass drum that’s really cool. I like the feel of the drums. That confused me, though Robert Dick flashed through my mind. Then when he did these sort of slide things, something about the tone made me think about Sonny Sharrock. But it was maybe a bit more reined-in than Sonny Sharrock. I hate to give it less than 5 stars… I really liked that. I’ll give it 5.
7. Bar Kokhba, “Hazor,” ZEVULUN (DIW, 1997) (Marc Ribot, guitar; Eric Friedlander, cello; Mark Feldman, violin; Greg Cohen, bass; Joey Baron, drums; Cyro Batista, percussion, John Zorn, composer) – (5 stars)
Again, this is an intellectual piecing-together. Is it Ribot? So it’s the Prosthetic Cubans. Then what is it? The cello player… [Who do you think wrote the music?] I don’t really recognize it. [AFTER] Oh, okay! Wow, now it all comes in there! I haven’t listened to this stuff. Now that you say it, I recognize the melodic…the thing with all the sort of Latin stuff, I’m thinking, “What…” I recognize Ribot. So that’s that! That’s Cyro, and Eric Friedlander on cello. I’ve heard so much about that band, and I think I have the CD at home in my pile of… I liked it a lot. And Ribot sounded really cool. He really got the killer tone on there. I can hear that melody being played by the other Masada. Aren’t some of these reorchestrations of that material? [He pools the book.] Right, but orchestrates it differently. I should have known the melody. But with that kind of Latiny stuff going on, I got sidetracked. 5 stars. The guitar seemed sort of dominant, so I thought it was the guitar player’s thing. He got a great tone on that. There’s a couple of times I’ve heard him… He said he was going to give it to me. I think he made a solo record of standard songs. We were in the middle of the night driving somewhere, like to the airport somewhere, and Kenny Wolleson had this tape, and this thing came on, and it was “Body and Soul,” and I thought, “Who is this guy?” It sounded like an old guy. I mean, in a good way. It sounded like some kind of old real guy that I’d never heard of before, and I couldn’t figure out who it was, and he was playing “Body and Soul.” It turned out to be Ribot. This had some of that real clean-enough but fat and kind of dirty, real good sound he got on there. I really liked that. Oh my God. [Think older.] Well, the reason I thought Mark… I’m really going to stick my wiener out! I heard bit of George Benson in there… [LAUGHS] I thought he’s had some impact on Mark. Okay. Wow!
8. George Benson, “Hipping The Hop” (#6), ABSOLUTE BENSON (Verve, 2000) (Benson, guitar Joe Sample, piano, composer; Chris McBride, bass; Cindy Blackman, drums) (5/4 stars)
[GRIMACES] Man! This is kind of a strange juxtaposition of things. When it first came on, I thought it was going to be some smooth jazz thing, then it goes into… It’s an odd convergence of styles. I’m going to guess Mark Whitfield. The reason I say that is I heard maybe some of… Most of what I’ve heard of Mark has been more straight-ahead, and I knew he recently did something that I hadn’t heard, and I wondered if that could be it. Wow! Is this from George Benson’s new one? Because I heard another thing on the radio, one song, I don’t know what it was, from George Benson’s new record. Man, what a monster player! The other thing I heard was a little more straight-ahead, and it reminded me of what a giant great player he is. Christian can go from this funk thing to the straight-ahead thing, but it didn’t… It seemed a little on the light side. The funk thing… It didn’t totally go to the straight-ahead thing and it didn’t go to the funk thing either. The two things that were going on, going back and forth, sort of caused some restraint on either end. It was really interesting, though. Oh, boy, I can’t… So it was George Benson. How is it that I get in a position that I’m sitting here talking about George Benson like I’m some kind of big-shot? He’s a giant. I guess it’s one of those things…the context is… He always sounds good. It would be great to hear him play with Ron Carter and whomever and just play some tunes. But who am I to say that? 5 stars for him and 4 stars for the arrangement. Those guys are great. Cindy plays great and Christian plays great. Who knows what was going on in the…
9. Duduka DaFonseca, “Por Flavio,” THE ART OF SAMBA JAZZ (self-produced ,2000) (Romero Lubambo & John Scofield, guitars; Nilson Matta, bass; Duduku Dafonseca, drums & percussion; Valtinho, percussion) – (
I’m getting confused. I have to start guessing… I guess I’m obsessing over who… The guitars are very separated. I really thought the one on the left was John Scofield. It is John Scofield? But I couldn’t quite get… Then I started thinking who is this other guy? He’s playing a nylon string guitar. I was kind of going off on who’s the drummer. Then it sounded like there was a percussionist. I was thinking about Jack De Johnette for a second, but that didn’t seem right. It’s getting more confusing. Then I thought maybe it’s not Scofield. There’s a lot of guys out there who picked up on some of his stuff. It doesn’t seem quite like a Scofield record. [It’s not.] The kind of dialogue between the two guitarists was cool. I like that. [AFTER] I don’t know Romero Lubambo or Nilson Matta. I knew it was Scofield, but the context seemed so… The piece was great. I liked the two guitars going off of each other. 5 stars. It felt great. Oh, that’s bad. Did I say Jack de Johnette? I guess I was thinking too much, “if that’s him, then this must be that.”
10. Liberty Ellman, “Blood Count,” ORTHODOXY (Red Giant, 1997) (Vijay Ayer, piano) – (5 stars)
I’m pretty sure it’s Steve Swallow. It’s not? Oh, my God. That was a guitar? It was an awful low-pitched guitar. But it sounded like a 6-string bass to me. Now you’ve got me really screwed up! I just got it fixed in my brain that it was… [So it didn’t sound like any guitarist you could pinpoint.] No. Also because it went much lower than a guitar. I didn’t know the tune. [AFTER] I should know that tune. I was thinking this was Steve Swallow playing his 6-string bass, just the sort of pure tone where Swallow gets this sound in between a guitar and a bass. Now I’m really confused, because it didn’t sound like a guitar to me. [AFTER] I’ve never heard of him. I really liked it. I had it totally planted in my brain… I thought it was Swallow playing with Carla Bley or something. Who was the piano player? [LAUGHS] I don’t know him either! I heard this chord on the piano and I thought Paul Bley. I thought Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. Then I thought, no, that’s not Paul Bley, it’s Carla Bley. Then I just settled into thinking that’s what it was. I’d like to check out these guys some more. 5 stars. Definitely his guitar was tuned…there was some super-low stuff going on there. I’ve got to check him out. Moments like that I really notice maybe I’ve been away from New York too much or something. I don’t even know who any of these people are. Not one person on this record I’ve ever heard of. I’m old. I’m a has-been.
11. Kevin Breit-Cyro Baptista, “Sao Paulo Slim,” SUPERGENEROUS (Blue Note, 2000) – (4 stars)
I like it. It’s another one of those weird juxtapositions of things. It sounds like two kind of slide guitar guys. Oh, it’s only one? There’s a statement of the melody and then it sounded like another guy. It sounded almost like another personality. But maybe not. Maybe it’s just the sound. But he had sort of a… I didn’t sense it right away, but then when he played the solo I got a bit more of that country thing in there. But then with the…I don’t know what this was. He sounded, I thought, like somebody from down South, but then the rhythm section I couldn’t… The bass player playing all this little chordal stuff. I think it was a bass player. An electric bass player. Maybe it was a rhythm guitar part that was hidden away in there. So a kind of active… I’m just lost. I don’t know this. I guess I have to… Everybody sounded really great. The tune didn’t kill me. So I guess I’ll have to say 4. But everybody played cool. [AFTER] Oh, shit! Oh, fuck! Oh, no! Oh, no!! I asked him to send me this record. Oh, shit! Oh, fuck! I love him! I did a gig with him…we did a gig in Seattle where I had Greg Liesz… It was a thing where I had four guitarists. I had Greg Lies, and Kevin, who has played a lot with Greg, like with k.d. Lang and… Man, I can’t believe it. And Brandon Ross. We sort of did a lot of my music that I had already arranged like for horns and stuff, but I had these four guitars. And Kevin played sort of everything that anyone else wouldn’t play. Like, he had a low-tuned guitar. So there’s a lot of overdubs on here. Because it sounded like a band actually playing. And he’s like a killer… Oh, he plays everything — mandolin, banjo. I just love him, and I had such a good time playing with him. I felt a real strong hookup playing with him. But I never heard him play slide guitar at all, I don’t think. It was like lap steel or whatever it was. I don’t know how he can play all these instruments. I’ve heard him play regular guitar, I’ve heard him play mandolin, I’ve heard him play this kind of 6-string bass guitar, and he KILLS on banjo — he really plays great banjo. But I’ve never heard him play that slide stuff. Wow. Anyway, I really like him.
12. Tim Berne-Marc Ducret-Tom Rainey, “Scrap Metal,” BIG SATAN (Winter & Winter, 1996) – (5 stars)
Well, it first came on and I thought it was Tim. Then the guitar player started playing. It’s interesting. The writing is very cool, the first statement. Is it Tim? Thank God. It’s weird how things… It’s cool to hear somebody after… I played with him a lot, and we’ve sort of gone on our separate ways, and I haven’t kept track of a lot of what he’s done. This was really strong. The writing and how the group was… This is stuff that had always been there in his music. It’s real distinctive… It’s weird, these little electronic or whatever impulses that shoot through your brain. Like, the first instant the thing came on, Julius went through my mind. But then almost immediately, then, I thought, “Oh, that’s got to be Tim.” Then I started thinking it’s really inspiring the way he… He’s stayed on his writing and…he’s stayed on this path all this time. I felt really strong that compositionally, whatever was going… I don’t know what that was. It’s stuff that was going on a long time ago, but you can hear how it’s…it’s just clear and it’s strange and it doesn’t sound like anything else.
There’s a lot of guitar players I’m not quite sure…I haven’t heard enough to know for sure. Brad Schoeppach passed through my mind at one point, and then I thought Marc Ducret. It must be Jim Black. No? Is it Previte? Then I don’t know who the drummer is. [AFTER] Oh, shit! Somehow I was thinking about Jim Black. That’s embarrassing, because that’s another person I played with… We played a lot, like REALLY a lot, not so much gigs, but we’d get together and play for hours and hours, and I should know him. But it’s strange, what goes on in my mind, because a lot of time has gone by, and we’re sort of off on these different… I’m over, wherever I’m playing, doing some hillbilly song, and he’s doing this. It’s kind of…it’s weird. 5 stars. It sounded great. I haven’t heard Marc enough to always instantly know that’s him, but every time I’ve heard him, he’s kind of flipped me out. . I heard one time I think in Italy with this group where he just played acoustic guitar with no pickup or anything. I’ve heard him in a lot of different contexts, and he’s just an off-the-scale great guitar player. In this context, I thought he really sounded… There’s a kind of soulfulness in there that’s… Different people set people off in different ways. There’s a feel Tom has that maybe makes Mark play in a certain way. Anyway, I thought he sounded really great on that.
13. Attila Zoller-Jimmy Raney, “Scherz 1,” JIM AND I (Bellaphon, 1980/1995) – (4 stars)
What in the world… You’ve got me there. I’m lost. The recording was a little distracting to me. The guitar in the left ear in the headphones was louder. I mean, I’m not one to…I use a lot of reverb. But it sounded like the reverb was kind of hitting on some stuff that was in the headphones. Sometimes the headphones kind of amplify that stuff. The one on the left was a lot louder. And I kept thinking, is this overdubbed with the same guy? Then right at the very end, the guy on the right, who was softer, came out for a moment by himself. And I couldn’t recognize the tune. I just felt lost, kind of. I kept hearing little bits of something; I thought of a tune, then it sort of went off and I couldn’t follow it. I liked the idea that there was all this dialogue going on. It was never clear who was… I almost thought it was the same person. Sometimes they were so on top of each other that then… Okay, tell me who it is. [AFTER] Attila crossed my mind. Jimmy Raney was the one on the right. I know that. Because right at the very end he played this little phrase by himself, and it had the feel, the eighth note thing. But the guitar player on the left, which was Attila, I don’t know his stuff that well, but… I guess it was the recording. It was louder, and it kept sort of dominating the… I wish I could have heard it with Jimmy Raney being louder, because for me the actual rhythmic… Okay, I’ll be critical. It was just that moment where Jimmy Raney played alone that the feel was killing. For me, on this particular thing… Maybe it was the recording or the sound…he had also a brighter sound. Attila seemed to dominate the whole thing. Maybe Jimmy Raney was sort of following him. That’s how I would critique it. I love Jimmy Raney. But that’s why it made sense when you said that. 4 stars. Those guys were great, though.
14. Brad Shepik, “Zdravo,” THE LOAN (Songlines, 1997) (Peter Epstein, alto sax; Tony Scherr, bass; Kenny Wolleson, drums; Seido Salifoski, percussion).
Got me again. When it first came on… For a moment I… I’m guessing. It doesn’t sound old guys to me. It sounds like young guys. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old; it seemed kind of hyper, like “let’s play this thing in 7.” But they play great. It just had this kind of real energetic thing that… I guess maybe it’s this being the last thing, we’ve listened to all this music, and I’m ready to cool out and relax. And there’s people… See, there’s all these guys who I should… There’s people who went through my mind. I mean, there’s people I still haven’t heard enough to know for sure. There was a moment I thought of Briggan Krauss when they were playing the melody, but then when he started soloing I didn’t think it was Briggan. For a moment I thought Briggan, then again I thought Brad Schoeppach. It was Brad? But I don’t really know his… It’s more like an intellectual thing. Then I thought about this group of guys who haven’t fully formed in my brain when I hear them, like Jim Black… [It was your rhythm section.] It was MY rhythm section. Oh my God! Now I’m really… If I say Jim Black… I didn’t recognize who it was, and so let’s think who would be playing with who. But I also have to say that for a moment Kurt Rosenwinkel went through my mind. So I hope these guys don’t get pissed at me for this. I guess so much of the music that I play with Kenny and Tony is so different than that. But I thought I would know those guys, because I’ve listened to other things they do. When I say energetic, they’ve got a lot of energy, but a lot of stuff they play is slowpoke, right, or Sex Mob. A lot of stuff is about these kind of slower feels. Was this Brad’s stuff? It sounded live.
There were guitar players in everything, and a lot of the music I listen to is not guitar-based. On the last blindfold test I did, there was something, and I said, “Well, that was Paul Chambers on bass and that was Philly Joe Jones… But I screwed that up bad on this one, too; saying that was Jack de Johnette. I guess it’s weird to zero in just on guitars. I guess there’s so many different ways. No one has ever done a Blindfold Test with me and played Bill Evans and Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis. Those are the things that have affected me. But this is good. I hope I didn’t say anything bad about anybody. As I get older, it’s frightening how much… There’s more and more music accumulating, and less and less I feel like I can hear it. It seemed like 20 years ago I would spend thousands of hours with one album, listening to it over and over again, and now it’s like you’re sort of flitting from one thing to another fairly quickly. [The music is sort of like that, too. A lot of people don’t go into one sound so much as they delve into a lot of different ways…] But it seems like a lot of people are able to actually absorb and retain a lot of stuff. I’m less and less able to do that, and there’s more and more stuff piling up. I have piles of stuff at home that I think “I’ve got to listen to this or that.”