In 1999 at the Vancouver Jazz Festival, I heard the prototype for this band play its very first show, and I can’t recall a more stultifying professional performance: dull, affectless music, most of it taken at a pace that might’ve pleased a sloth. I don’t mention this to rag on Bill Frisell–a gifted guitarist, he was mainly guilty that night of presenting an underrehearsed band–but rather to point out the fragility of his current music. Since the early 90s, Frisell has applied his brooding style and raw-silk timbre to an engaging mishmash of antique American idioms, including rural folk songs, western lilts, brass-band marches, and Delta blues; but many of his compositions and arrangements call for a measured, even stately pace, a heartbeat or two from a musical coma. And Frisell has to tread a similarly fine line in his guitar playing: phrases that can feel laconic, meditative, and steeped in mournful reflection can just as easily come to a lugubrious and excruciating standstill. On the 1999 album Good Dog, Happy Man, Frisell proved that the bad night I caught in Vancouver was indeed an anomaly, adeptly realizing his concept with a core group of bass, drums, and second guitarist Greg Leisz on mandolin and a variety of steel guitars. The New Quartet follows the same path with a similar lineup, which likewise features Leisz; Frisell’s latest album, Blues Dream (Nonesuch), adds a small horn section to the band, recapturing the texture of such delightful 80s discs as Rambler and Before We Were Born. At these shows the New Quartet will take the stage alone: Frisell, Leisz, bassist David Piltch, and drummer Kenny Wollesen (at the Green Mill earlier this month as part of Kenny Werner’s trio), who invests the restrained rhythms with coiled energy. Friday, April 20, 7:30 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Wilson.