A compelling case can be made for guitarist Bill Frisell as the most desirable duet partner in jazz—and for Joey Baron, now that Paul Motian has passed, as the most empathetic drummer to engage him. Having appeared on a dozen of each other’s records over the past 25 years, as well as sharing membership in John Zorn’s Naked City and a handful of other bands, Frisell and Baron performed as a duo in Bonn, Germany, in November 2008, at an event called the Forum Bundeskunsthalle. Just Listen documents that gig.
As you’d expect, Frisell comfortably plunges into genres ranging from back-porch country to spazzed-out electronica to free improvisation, although most of the best moments bear the kinetics of jazz-rock fusion. The guitarist can be a reliably stimulating colorist whether leading or responding, but on Just Listen he initiates most of the action.
Despite their extensive experience together, the spontaneous compositions are merely interesting, leaving the half-dozen covers to meet the lofty standard inevitably raised by this tandem. Fortunately, they do. Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is right in Frisell’s wheelhouse as a soulful blend of country, blues and gospel, and he delivers jagged electric phrases that, like fireworks, sometimes end abruptly with a starburst and sometimes zigzag before fading. John McLaughlin’s “Follow Your Heart” is likewise refried and slowly wrung out after sizzling. Baron comes to the fore on fleet but gentler tracks such as Benny Goodman’s “Benny’s Bugle,” Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes” and a nifty soft-shoe take on “Cherokee.” The most pleasant surprise is the duo’s rendition of “Mood,” the Ron Carter tune that closes Miles Davis’ E.S.P. album, here done with meandering but keenly attuned interplay that charms with its restraint.