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Originally published Friday, June 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jazz Etc.

Guitarist Bill Frisell: It all just comes together, brilliantly

Concert preview | Bill Frisell just released a dandy new album, "History, Mystery," and — lucky for us — the peripatetic, Seattle-based guitarist...

Seattle Times jazz critic

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Bill Frisell: Hear song samples from all Frisell's albums at his Web site, www.billfrisell.com.

Concert preview

Bill Frisell Trio

8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle; $25 (206-789-3599 or http://tractortavern.ypguides .net).

Concert Preview

Bill Frisell just released a dandy new album, "History, Mystery," and — lucky for us — the peripatetic, Seattle-based guitarist plays his hometown Monday and Tuesday, as well.

Not that there will necessarily be much crossover between the album and the gig.

Seattle violist Eyvind Kang is a common denominator, but the album's for octet, and the Seattle date features an intriguing guitar-viola-drums trio, featuring Denver drummer Rudy Royston.

"I had this thing in my mind, to try this with just Eyvind and him, without bass," said Frisell earlier this week, adding one of his characteristically modest, self-deprecating caveats. "I don't know how to explain why, but I think it might work."

Indeed. Most Frisell projects do tend to work rather well, from his groundbreaking album in the 1990s, "Nashville," to his puckish collaborations with cartoonist Gary Larson and his electronically noisy, Grammy-winning 2005 album, "Unspeakable."

That's why Frisell consistently wins both the Down Beat critics and readers polls, and why he is often cited as the most influential guitarist since Jimi Hendrix.

Frisell's woozy, reverbed sound and reverse attack — which makes each note sound like it balloons to life rather than being plucked — and his deft use of digital delay have become standard operating procedure for a whole generation of guitarists.

The new album showcases orchestrations for three string players (Kang, Jenny Scheinman and Hank Roberts); two horns (Ron Miles, trumpet; Greg Tardy, tenor saxophone and clarinet); and rhythm section.

The textures are delicate, folkish and exquisitely distributed over often-minor keys, with the mysterious, slow-motion quality of a daydream. Most are originals, but on Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Frisell extracts a delicious, organlike sound from the horns.

Themes surface and resurface throughout the two-CD album, though Frisell says it was not conceived as integrated work.

"I'm not one of those guys that has some preconceived, big-picture thing before it happens," he confessed. "I'm just going along and these little pieces are appearing, and I put them together."

Much of the material, however, does derive from collaborations with the whimsical Seattle cartoonist Jim Woodring. Other pieces include short cues for an NPR radio show, "Stories From the Heart of the Land," plus tunes Frisell just thought would "fit," like Thelonious Monk's "Jackie-ing." Most of it was recorded live.

"Some things almost came out of having a jam session," Frisell said. "[Jim] would come over to my house and I'd play and he'd draw."

For all this purported haphazardness, the music hangs together beautifully.

"I like the idea that people can listen to it and make up their own story," he said.

In Seattle, the trio may play some of the tunes from the album, but that will get decided on stage. Frisell says he is particularly excited to be playing with Royston.

"I met Rudy in Denver in the early '90s," said the guitarist, who also hails from the Mile High City. "He's just this fantastic drummer. But for quite a while he didn't want to leave town. He taught school. More recently, he moved to the East Coast, and he really just wants to play out now. That's been fantastic. We played Jazz Alley last summer and we just recently played at the Vanguard [in New York] and went to England. I have a real strong hookup with Eyvind, so hopefully it'll all connect up."

Oh, don't worry, Bill. It will.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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