When guitarist Bill Frisell started showing up on ECM albums in the late 70s, behind Norwegian saxist Jan Garbarek, he already had the quirky, spacey style and total timbral control that would make him one of the three most influential jazz guitarists of his generation. (Metheny. Scofield.) Frisell plays with a monk’s patience, letting each note ring longer than anyone else in the genre to create his signature swaths of sound, sometimes gothic, sometimes romantic, and often countrified. On his early recordings, including a few with Paul Motian’s tremendous quintet, Frisell spins a dark, airy, raw-silk tone, and to this day the music’s maddening subtlety demands more than a casual listen. In the 90s he’s explored white American idioms–notably country and rural folk songs, but also early-20th-century brass-band and vocal traditions–and achieved popular success with such albums as Quartet and Nashville. (Tina Brown’s New Yorker called him “the most distinctive stylist in contemporary jazz.”) This rootsy fusion has admittedly let Frisell reach many people who don’t ordinarily listen to jazz, but over the years it’s lost even the small appeal it used to have for me. His delightful 1998 trio record, Gone, Just Like a Train (Nonesuch), briefly raised my hopes: working with Lyle Lovett’s bassist Viktor Krauss and veteran rock drummer Jim Keltner, Frisell restored to his music an aqua vitae that had all but evaporated. But generally, the more antique Americana he incorporates into his work, the sleepier it gets: the new Good Dog, Happy Man, which adds Greg Leisz (guitars, mandolin, Dobro, pedal steel) and Wayne Horvitz (keyboards) to the Krauss-Keltner rhythm section, is merely pleasant, and this summer’s debut of Frisell’s “bluegrass” band, the Willies, was excruciatingly dull. His current touring group, the New Quartet, retains only Leisz from the album, and bassist David Piltch (formerly with Holly Cole) and New York new-music drummer Kenny Wollesen should flip a few sparks into the guitarist’s haystack. Saturday, 9:30 PM, FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Luciano Viti.