Bill Frisell was made to wrap up jazz festivals.
The Sage was brimming with world class jazz performers at the weekend but Frisell is something far more rare: he is a world class musician.
Sunday night saw Frisell revisit his recent album Beautiful Dreamers with Eyvind Kang on Viola and Rudy Royston on drums.
The evening started in meditative style with long ringing chords accompanied by Kang’s folksy viola.
My personal highlight came in the middle of the set, beginning with a beautifully restrained cover of The Beatles’ In My Life and moving into a folk-inspired riff which saw Royston open up on the drums, ripping into some incredible fills.
In My Life’s famous classically inspired bridge was taken in unison by Kang and Frisell but more often they weaved countermelodies over and across each other.
The way Frisell picked out counter melodies in such a famous tune, pulling the threads of the original apart to show us the inner workings of its harmony, was a true sign of his supreme musicianship.
Not only is Frissel a master of taste in his own playing, he also picks bandmates who share his phenomenal ear. Time and again, Royston would echo the rhythmic patterns of Kangs Viola or Frissel’s guitar, meolidc and rhythmic motifs passing between the players without it ever seeming contrived.
Kang’s viola moved between delicate precision and, in some of the more rock-inspired moments, screeching like a good old fashioned guitar solo.
There were times - especially when the music took off in its more energetic moments - that I was hoping a bass player might emerge from the back of the stage but perhaps that wish was missing the point. The way this band had been set up was to leave the bottom end relatively untouched and that gave the sound a lighter quality that suited the fragility of much of the music.
I left the gig feeling very inspired, not so much by Frisell’s abilities as a player (although clearly, he is one of the world’s leading guitarists) but by his unrelenting focus on being a musician first and foremost.
A stranger sitting next to me in Hall Two put it best: “He’s not interested in looking good. He always seems to play the right thing, at the right time”.
Here’s to more jazz musicians like Bill Frisell.