Bill Frisell-Eyvind Kang-Rudy Royston
Bob Burnett: If you have the chance to experience this group live then do it. I was able to do so a few evening's ago at the Barns of Wolftrap in Vienna, Virginia--a locale that was seemingly made with this group in mind. Bill Frisell is currently on a very expansive tour--he'll be playing in several different variations of groups from now until late May. I've had the pleasure of seeing him four times in the past in a variety of ways--John Zorn's Naked City (2 variations--one time at the Smithsonian was by far one of the best live performances I've ever witnessed) his quartet with Hank Roberts, Joey Baron and Kermit Driscoll and now in a trio with Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums.
The beauty of the current line up rests in the ability for the group to expand on basic charts, improvise in ways that cross over into a variety of nuanced musical styles and effortlessly segue into new areas within the same composition--one minute it's strains of Aaron Copland's modernist sound visualizations, the next will interweave Bill Evans' intricate melodic runs, suddenly it's fragile, eccentric old time similar in scope to QQQ or Tin Hat Trio.
In addition to Frisell's regular Nonesuch releases he has a live download series on his website that I highly encourage you explore. I am hoping this trio makes an appearence with a release.
While Frisell is the namesake I have to give credit to the others in the trio. I know Eyvind Kang's work from his releases on Tzadik. A noted composer in his own right, his albums blaze a trail for me into a magical world of eccentricity all his own--avant-garde yet medieval-tinged court music is the only way to inadequately/briefly describe what I hear when listening to his work. In this line-up he converts the viola into a sound contact instrument. He explores a wide array of sonic textures--strings, surface, touch, unique bowing come together in a way that had me thinking of John Cage contact mic'ing surfaces such as mushrooms and using turntable cartridges as instruments. Granted, a lot of sonic variety is happening but it's in his control--not due to a digital effect computer plug-in . Rudy Royston is a perfect fit on drums. He reminds me of the great players--Paul Motian, Ed Blackwell and Jack DeJohnette come to mind; inventive, subtle and dedicated as is Kang to using the surface of the instrument to expand the sonic possibilities.
At the conclusion of the evening the crowd responded in a very positive manner that seemed to really surprise the players--most notably Frisell. He spoke of the great appreciation he had for the response and mentioned this was only the second night out for this line-up and they'd played some of what was heard for the first or possibly second time. Further--he linked the experience to a graduation speech that the late children's TV mainstay Mr. Fred Rogers made at Dartmouth in 2002. Frisell stumbled through remembering exactly why he thought of that but said as a way to close his thoughts he'd dig up the speech and mention it in a clearer way the next time he returned. I looked up the speech and believe what he was getting at was this quote:
Deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.
So there you have it---a virtuoso player at the top of his game telling the audience that we were the ones who inspired him. A very nice way to end the evening.