Bill Frisell changes his tune

Mar 28, 2012 at 5:00 am
Bill Frisell changes his tune
Photo by Michael Wilson

“It’s hard to find a more fruitful meditation on American music than in the compositions of guitarist Bill Frisell. Mixing rock and country with jazz and blues, he’s found what connects them: improvisation and a sense of play. Unlike other pastichists, who tend to duck passion, Mr. Frisell plays up the pleasure in the music and also takes on another often avoided subject, tenderness.” —The New York Times

This year marks the 30th anniversary of guitarist Bill Frisell’s first solo record. Through the years, Frisell has explored a wide variety of music, challenging himself and his listeners. He returns to Louisville for a performance with longtime bandmates Kenny Wollesen (drums) and Tony Scherr (bass), plus trumpeter Ron Miles.

Frisell’s eclectic approach to making music is exemplified by his two most recent releases, All We Are Saying and Floratone II. The former is a straightforward tribute to the music of John Lennon (both as a Beatle and as a solo artist), and includes Scherr, Wolleson and others. The latter is more experimental, with basic tracks being reinterpreted and reinvented with studio production. The same wide-ranging approach to recording is reflected in his tours, during which Frisell goes out with different ensembles; in March alone, he will have performed in four different line-ups by the time he hits Louisville.

LEO caught up with Frisell by phone as he was waiting for a plane, following a gig the night before.

LEO: What do you find so intriguing about going on tour with one group, and then a week or two later you’re out with a different group?

Bill Frisell: (laughing) It’s not even intentional, it just seems like it’s the nature of the music. As I get older, and get further and further off into things, I’m led down all these paths. It’s not really a conscious thing at all, it just somehow seems to be working out that way. For me, music has all this stuff in it, there’s so many ways to go, and so many ways I want to go, and so many things I want to check out. Sometimes I get home for a few days, and then I have to think, “What am I doing the next week or so?” There’s 15 different things, but, once I’m in the midst of the music, it all just kind of takes care of itself.

LEO: When you come to Louisville, you will be playing with your trio plus Ron Miles. You played Louisville once solo, and once with Kenny and Tony. What about Kenny and Tony specifically do you find motivates you in your own playing?

BF: Oh, well, now we have this history … I don’t even know when I started to play with them now, I guess it was in the mid-’90s or something like that. What drew me to them in the first place was the first time we played, it felt like we’d already known each other, like we’d already been playing for years together. Now after we’ve done all these different things together, traveled all over the place, been in all kinds of ups and downs, it’s really like a family.

LEO: Will you be playing music from All We Are Saying and from the film “The Great Flood,” which you are performing at other dates on this tour, or do you just wait and see what mood hits you?

BF: That’s the thing with these guys, it’s such a luxury — we have this history. We might make reference to some of that music, but I have a feeling it’s more wide open, where we can just play … especially with these guys, there’s a huge amount of common repertoire that we have, I’m not even sure right now what it’s going to be. We never really do the usual, do the album and perform the album, on the gig. The music is always changing, all the time. I’m thankful that there’s some kind of audience that understands that; for me, that’s what the process is. At every gig, the music grows and changes according to where we are. I know it’s always a challenge for the audience to follow — “What are they going to do now?” But for me, I just feel lucky that they’re there.

Bill Frisell

Thursday, March 29

Clifton Center

2117 Payne St. • 896-8480

$22; 7:30 p.m.