At Largo last night, Jason Moran took his place at the Steinway while Bill Frisell tuned his six-string guitar before the first of two sets. Drummer Kenny Wollesen gathered his drum sticks and sat back in his seat. The trio had recently played a few concerts at Yoshi's in Oakland, the finale to Frisell's four-day residency, and stopped in for a concert in Los Angeles before heading down to San Diego.
"The city is growing on me," Moran said of L.A., standing outside of the Coronet on La Cienega Blvd. in between sets. "I think I'm not as self-conscious anymore about how self-conscious the city is." Moran started coming to Los Angeles in the '90s, to play at Club Brasserie in the Bel Age on La Cienega where Branford Marsalis' band would jam after Marsalis left his position as the band leader on "The Tonight Show." He vividly recalls playing alongside Greg Osby and seeing Bernie Mac and Freddie Hubbard in the audience.
On stage, Moran is anything but self-conscious. Tuesday night's concert was a testament to the compatibility of two great musicians who share a proud reverence for musical tradition, and an unapologetically modern approach. Frisell and Moran adhere to a similar philosophy--an unwavering devotion to the ideas behind their music, but a liberal attitude towards time and space. Frisell's relationship with folk, blues, jazz, and country, and Moran's tendency towards gospel, blues, and jazz, provides rich historical context for their work, and earns them both credibility and the audience's trust to take the music where they will.
Most remarkable was Frisell, Moran, and Wollesen's compatability on stage. All three musicians listened intently, accommodating each other while pursing their own directions, always leaning towards a collective agenda. "He (Frisell) is a great guitarist, but a great person too," said Moran. "I've played with enough groups to know that if you don't get along it doesn't work."
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These guys are not structural traditionalists but they are conceptual evangelists. They don't subscribe to the standard 12-bar blues. Moran is known to sample hip-hop quotations in his music and at Largo, Frisell kept a collection of pedals at his feet so that he could loop licks with his green suede shoes as he went along. The set list was a diverse selection of Frisell's original compositions, including a few gorgeous new ballads (not yet named), with a couple standards thrown in, namely Monk's "Misterioso" and Louis Jordan's "No Moe."
The trio's instrumentation--two on harmony with percussion and no bass--meant that both Frisell and Moran took the melody at times, boldly leading the music where they pleased. Moran often took up the bass line, comping with his left hand, sometimes with a startling, almost violent persistence. Wollesen rarely led, but instead followed the lines painted by Moran and Frisell, sending the cymbals shuddering, tracing the head of his toms with a wet index finger in a slow circle, while Moran comped and Frisell picked out an eerie melody on his guitar.
The band played each set straight through, and Frisell spoke only before the first encore. "Was it yesterday that Hank Williams got a Pulitzer Prize? Why didn't he get one 60 or 70 years ago? What's wrong with these people?" With that, he picked up his guitar and the trio headed straight for "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
[Thanks to Max Wrightson for his thoughts about this review]