Some reasons why guitarist Bill Frisell is so cool:
- He sounds utterly like nobody else
- This distinctive "voice" of his, it registers like some weird mercury ghost
- As with Thelonious Monk, you tend to get the mistaken first impression that his playing is a touch naive and hesitant
- Someone once called him the "Clark Kent of the electric guitar": gentle and self-effacing in person, and a fire-breathing dragon when his fingers are on the frets
- Best of all, it makes no sense to imprison him in any one idiom (like jazz)
On his album Have A Little Faith, in all seriousness, he performs compositions by: Aaron Copland ("Billy The Kid"), Madonna ("Live To Tell"), Charles Ives, Dylan, Sousa and Stephen Foster. And they all sound like he wrote them.
Recently, his trio (acoustic bass, drums) played on the campus of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Frisell entered, in most unjazz-like fashion, with a yellow Telecaster slung around his neck. He positioned himself in front of a small army of low-tech effects pedals. He let a note ring, and like a mad scientist, twiddled and turned some knobs, stomping on the pedals once or twice. Soon, you heard the wheezy snarl of a loop echoing over and over. The bassist and drummer raised their eyebrows. Then they dipped their feet slowly in the water to test the temperature, and slid in. And the band was off.
An hour's worth of a glorious racket followed. Melodically, it was like roots music; harmonically, it was like jazz; rhythmically, it was like rock n' roll; and texturally, it was like nothing else, just pure Frisell. By the end, it became clear that the show had been almost entirely improvised.
Frisell returned for a quick encore. It was a sweet slow-burn version, finger-picked on electric guitar, of Burt Bacharach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love".