The Frisell Flow

This year the Jerusalem Jazz Festival takes place under the auspices of the much larger and well-established sibling event, the Israel Festival.

Bill Frisel (photo credit: Michae Wilson)
Bill Frisel
(photo credit: Michae Wilson)
As one learns over the years, life is often a case of swings and roundabouts or, simply put, wins and losses. This year, after two years of independence, the Jerusalem Jazz Festival takes place under the auspices of the much larger and well-established sibling event, the Israel Festival. Judging by the jazz bash's roster, what it has lost in autonomy it has gained in funding and - consequently - the quality of acts it can afford to bring over. The lineup offers solid entertainment across the board with the biggest name being fifty-something American guitarist Bill Frisell. There is plenty of cultural and geographical breadth to the jazz offering, including Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio, German trombonist Nils Wogram and his Root 70 band and longtime New York-resident Israeli pianist Anat Fort with an intriguing jazz-ethnic music combo. The fire and brimstone Brazilian mandolin player Hamilton de Holanda's quintet adds a rich dosage of Latin endeavor to the jazzy proceedings. Frisell is one of the most distinctive musicians on today's global jazz scene. Over the last 25 or so years he has carved his own niche in the jazz domain, particularly with a series of Americana-inflected albums that often seemed to cull more from the country-style sentiments of Tennessee than the blues-jazz sounds and rhythms of New Orleans. The guitarist freely admits to drawing on a rambling spectrum of musical idioms. "I grew up playing a lot of R&B in high schools," says Frisell in a telephone interview from his Seattle home. "I played in a lot of racially mixed bands and I was exposed to all kinds of cultural roots." While some might say there is something of a color divide between predominantly white country music and African-American based jazz, for Frisell it is all part of the same. "Country music comes [musically] from the same place as the blues. And there were plenty of white guys in Motown - like the guys in the rhythm section on the first Aretha Franklin record. It's all from the same source." Frisell demonstrates his point by citing one of the tracks from his brand new double CD, History, Mystery, which naturally covers expansive musical terrain. "There is a Sam Cooke song on the album ['A Change Is Gonna Come']. He came from the church gospel singing thing. If you go back far enough it gets more blurred - the whole racial thing. It all gets more mixed up. The divisions are artificial. Record companies need to put a label on things, and decide what part of the store the records should go in." As is so often the case with artists, Frisell is very much a product of the vibes surrounding him during his formative years. "I grew up with rock and roll and later pop and then rock. I got into the Beatles and the blues-based rock groups of the sixties. I first got a guitar because of surf music, not jazz." After cutting his teeth on the New York scene, Frisell got his big break in the early-eighties when stellar guitarist Pat Metheny couldn't make a recording session for prestigious German label ECM. Frisell got the gig and the rest, as they say, is history. Through most of the eighties he mixed it with an almost bewildering range of artists, from straight ahead jazz musicians to hardcore experimental efforts - and much betwixt. Frisell's early nineties release Have a Little Faith clearly reflects his eclectic ethos. The album includes works by contemporary classical composers Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, rock guitarist John Hiatt, Bob Dylan and even Madonna. More than anything, Frisell says he just goes with the flow, never really knowing how a new project will work out, or what his next project will be. "I have never really fitted into the doing an album and touring with it thing. That doesn't work for me." Naturally, he couldn't give any clear indication of what we might hear from him and his quartet - cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Rudy Royston. "There may be some stuff from the new album, and even some standards. I know the other musicians very well, and I guess we'll just feed off each other." If nothing else, the Frisell concert promises to be an adventure. And the rest of the Israel Festival jazz slots don't look too bad either. The Bill Frisell Quartet plays at the Sherover Theater at the Jerusalem Theater on June 17 at 9 p.m. For more information about this show and all the other Israel Festival offerings visit