All treble is no trouble for Frisell's trio
Acclaimed guitarist performs with viola player, drummer
Like many artists finding their way in the digital era, acclaimed jazz guitarist Bill Frisell has taken to making some of his work available by download on his website. But unlike most musicians, he also has a label providing enthusiastic support for a new release. After more than 20 albums for Nonesuch, Frisell signed with the storied Savoy Jazz, which released his mesmerizing "Beautiful Dreamers" at the end of August.
"It's amazing, they're just so enthusiastic about it, and really trying hard," Frisell said by phone. "And in this day and age, it seems like with the whole CD thing, you don't know what's going to happen, but's it's been really great with these guys. They're just really excited about the music and trying to get it out there. I feel so lucky."
Frisell said he didn't even know if he'd have a label when he went into the studio with his newest trio, which features Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums. But Savoy signed him without knowing what, exactly, they were going to get from the guitarist, who has an instantly recognizable sound, haunting and contemplative, but a distinct disinclination to respect genre boundaries.
"They knew enough about me that they weren't expecting any one thing in particular, and they were just really open and cool about it," said Frisell, who brings the trio to the One World Theatre on Sunday. "I get really uncomfortable if I'm cornered — if somebody wants me to actually do something that they want me to do. Even if it's what I want to do! I'm kind of selfish that way with music, because music is so \u2026 the nature of it, it's just from day to day. Changing. Like liquid. I just want to be able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. That's the only way it really works. I've been really lucky to have people around me that understand that concept."
Kang is a longtime bandmate, while Frisell first met Royston in the early '90s, at the same time as another regular colleague, trumpeter Ron Miles. Back then, Royston wasn't interested in leaving Denver, but he's begun touring in the past few years, and Frisell saw the opportunity for a unique collaboration.
"I'd known them both a really, really long time and got it sort of fixed in my mind that the chemical reaction would be good. So we tried it once, and it just instantly was, from the first note, I felt like wow, this really works. We didn't even play that much for a couple years, there was a handful of gigs that we did before we did that album, but every time we played, it just felt like something that was supposed to happen."
Frisell said Kang has truly found his voice since switching from violin to viola, and the absence of a bass in the group creates an unusual dynamic.
"It just changes the perspective, like turning it inside out or something," Frisell said. "It makes it really easy to switch the way the feel is, or the way you hear different parts of the drums in a different way. There's this whole area of the drums, and even on the guitar, the lower register of the guitar comes through in a different manner."
Frisell continues to work with a number of varied ensembles. His packed schedule includes dates with his Disfarmer Project, a duo with Vinicius Cantuaria, the McCoy Tyner Quartet, and his long-running trio with Kenny Wollesen and Tony Scherr, among others.
"It's just another thing to add to my chaos," Frisell said with a laugh.
Frisell wrote the originals on "Beautiful Dreamers" specifically for the new trio, to give it a separate identity.
"I really want it to be like with Kenny and Tony. We have like a language or something, we've been playing together so long. We have this thing that we do, and I'm hoping this will be a thing like that, too."
As for future collaborations, anything to the rumor that he might record with Redd Volkaert? On Frisell's past few swings through Austin, he played the Continental Club ("one of my favorite places on the planet") and faithfully attended the Austin guitar giant's Saturday afternoon gigs there.
"I don't think I could keep up!" Frisell said, laughing. "I've gotten to hear him quite a bit, and man, he is just something else. I would love to get to play with him. That would be like a major guitar lesson for me right there."
Bill Frisell's ‘Beautiful Dreamers' featuring Eyvind Kang & Rudy Royston
When: 6 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: One World Theatre, 7701 Bee Cave Road