There’s no one else quite like Bill Frisell. He’s been the major man of American guitar for decades now, not so much a towering giant as a majestically buoyant leviathan capable of navigating a seemingly unlimited sea of genres without losing his unique voice and tone. On Monday, January 26, he touched down at the Lobero—clearly one of his favorite venues—with a particularly charming and optimistic program of songs from his recent recording Guitar in the Space Age! The project is an homage to Frisell’s childhood memories of America ascendant, and it’s populated with instrumental versions of songs you likely know well, such as “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Tired of Waiting for You,” and “Surfer Girl,” but the pop sweetness is cut both with rowdy surf rock instrumentals such as “Pipeline” and “Rumble,” and with jazzy western swing from the likes of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West.
The Lobero show was all that and more as Frisell chose to introduce each of the two sets with a great American standard — “Shenandoah” for the opener, and “When the Saints Go Marching In” after intermission. The musicianship of Frisell’s band is truly incomparable. Kenny Wollesen’s kooky/funky brushwork alone was unforgettable, and he was great in every direction all night. Tony Scherr handled the formidable job of using the bass to steer this jam, and on this night at least, Frisell seemed particularly focused on his duet partner, pedal-steel guitarist Greg Leisz, who can hang with the bandleader absolutely bar for bar. Of the many highlights, I’d single out a sweeping, spectral rendition of “Surfer Girl” as the night’s crowning glory. Both Frisell and Leisz will be back at the Lobero on Tuesday, April 28, to lend a hand with Charles Lloyd’s music in a concert that promises to be another beautiful evening.