The model of a patient player, Bill Frisell has for decades kept his jazz, country, and fusion guitar work to a minimum. You'll hear plenty of riffs, swirls, swells, and slides, but nary a moment of noodling. In 1989, Frisell teamed with fellow guitarist Arto Lindsay, drummer Joey Baron, saxophonist Julius Hemphill, baritone horn player Doug Wieselman, and keyboardist Peter Scherer to create Before We Were Born, a lively, unpredictable album that could pass for a modern film-noir soundtrack.
Now Frisell and his 858 Quartet have jumped directly into the cinematic realm, performing live scores for film, including shorts by Buster Keaton, Bill Woodring, and Bill Morrison. Keaton's works, of course, are the silent, slapstick black-and-whites that often seem to have been filmed in fast motion. Woodring's are kinetic collages of stop-action photography, cut-and-paste art, and figure-drawing. Morrison provides the evening's heaviest piece, a reworking of James Young's 1926 silent film The Bells. Renamed The Mesmerist, the dreamlike work includes a scene that is often considered Young's eerie premonition of the Holocaust.
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All of these films are well worth watching without accompaniment. But Frisell and his savvy group transform them into unique and wildly satisfying experiences. Andrés Solar