matt chamberlain

Bill Frisell quartet review: Risking freedom

Jazz ensemble's creative, sometimes chaotic concert demonstrates the necessary risks and resulting rewards of musical liberation


Freedom is a thing to be shared. Something to be held together, watched over, nurtured, maintained, oiled, tweaked, and crafted. Disciplined, committed, passionate performers of jazz (and all its offshoots) know that the freedom inherent to the art form is something larger than their participation, has its own life, is a force to be reckoned with, an entity that permeates the circumambient social atmosphere and charges everything it touches with a sense of oneness, of being in a current, of having a momentum, of belonging and mutual respect. Some of these musicians bring a humble leadership to the care and feeding of the genre’s freedom. They understand the importance of power-with, have a gifted sense of how to bring out the best in others, know that the most effective leadership is by example. Yet  they can shine on their own and hold the weight of decision and move and act for the goodwill of others.

However, freedom often spawns imbalance, or chaos. A truly gifted leader neither represses nor concedes in the face of chaos but trusts freedom’s way to forever seek equilibrium and cohesion. Pull your foot off the brake while skidding in snow, let the vehicle go where it needs to go; it will right itself.

Chamberlain, Haden, Frisell (L-R) at The Shedd.

Morgan, Chamberlain, Haden, Frisell (L-R) at The Shedd.

Bill Frisell is such a leader: a gifted instrumentalist who moves through and between disparate, contrasting communities of musical style, fostering artistry in every project he undertakes and who creates environments where collaborators can shine. The Seattle guitarist’s collaborators for last week’s performance at Eugene’s Shedd Institute (a stop on his tour of his latest release, When You Wish upon a Star, a tribute to the lasting appeal of TV and movie music) seemed an oddly matched lot: self-conscious, nervous, uncomfortable, stoic. Yet each one gave themselves up to their unique gifts: drummer Matt Chamberlain disappeared into his doggedly supportive, spontaneous, and shimmering participation (he had never played the set list until that night); bass player Thomas Morgan’s stunning right and left hand techniques pulled colors and textures, with endless sensitivity, from his beast of an instrument; and vocalist Petra Haden’s antisocial, alt-rocker vibe was shattered by the warmth, sensuality, and astounding range of her instrument.

As they crafted the freedom that exists between master musicians, and as they let it swell into the hall, and as the audience sat, energized, Frisell pushed, pulled, responded, directed, pulled back, all the while smiling and glowing with appreciation—a leader entirely dedicated to his cohorts and the audience who completed the evening’s performance.


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