Bill Frisell is the most versatile and influential guitarist of his generation. With a list of recordings longer than 10 Telecasters and a worldwide following that includes jazz aficionados, folk fans, Americana mavens, and avant-gardists, he could — and does — play anywhere, any time. But of all the many prestigious venues that Frisell visits, the one that seems to draw him back with the greatest frequency happens to be located on the corner of Anacapa and Canon Perdido streets. A partial record of Frisell’s recent appearances at the Lobero includes a who’s-who of contemporary music. There was an unforgettable night of fiery duets with drummer Joey Baron back in 2008, and the dueling trios of Frisell and John Scofield in February 2011. In 2014, he came to town with a night of music written by John Lennon, and in May 2015, he joined the Montecito Marvel, Charles Lloyd, for a moving concert that included some of Lloyd’s most interesting and impassioned recent work. It’s official: The Lobero has the Bill Frisell seal of approval.
Frisell’s remarkable affinity for the room is just one of the reasons his upcoming engagement there is generating such a buzz. On Thursday, January 24, he’ll sweep in with bassist Thomas Morgan, longtime drummer Rudy Royston, and a recent addition to his musical retinue with a deep family connection, innovative singer Petra Haden. Haden, whose late father, Charlie Haden, redefined the role of the bass in jazz and world music, has now collaborated with Frisell twice, once on a record of duets in 2003, and then again on this project, a reimagination of songs and soundtracks associated with great films, titled When You Wish Upon a Star.
Haden’s contribution to the program demands some individual attention. She’s one of the most daring and unpredictable artists in contemporary music, and her 2013 album Petra Goes to the Movies predates the Frisell recording by two years. Before that, Haden blew the minds of even the most adventurous listeners with her 2005 solo a cappella complete album cover of The Who Sell Out. If you haven’t heard it yet, seek it out. You will never listen to classic rock or a cappella music the same way again.
When I spoke to Frisell by phone recently, he was in Seattle preparing for a concert of mostly improvised electronic music with some faculty members of the university there. In response to a question about his longtime musical relationship with Charles Lloyd, he recalled his first meeting with the man in preparation for performing together. “I’ll never forget how he started the conversation,” said Frisell, “which was by saying, ‘I’m looking forward to singing with you.’” As anyone who was in the audience for the magical night of John Lennon covers can tell you, one of Frisell’s most extraordinary musical tricks is his uncanny ability to conjure the words to the songs he plays without breaking from his standard all-instrumental approach. I can’t think of another musician whose technique achieves a more complete connection with the presence of the human voice. To hear him perform with an actual singer, and one as great as Petra Haden, ought to be something else again. As Frisell observed in relation to Haden’s The Who album, “her voice becomes an instrument too,” a fact that will likely enhance the experience even further.
For those interested in the range of movie music the group will explore, here are a few of the things to expect. Frisell has composed brilliant versions of the themes from To Kill a Mockingbird, The Godfather, and Once Upon a Time in the West. Petra Haden will sing the album’s title track along with “Moon River” and “Happy Trails,” and the wildest jamming of the night will likely come when the group tackles a Frisell original, the original soundtrack for Tales from the Far Side. See you at this musical tribute to the movies.
Bill Frisell will play from his record When You Wish Upon a Star on Thursday, January 24, at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). Call 963-0761 or see lobero.org.