This two-disc set of live trio performances caught in Oakland, Calif., and New York City posit guitarist Bill Frisell as an artist at his best in the raw, when his imaginative explorations don't succumb to overworked studio arrangements. Coming off last year's trifling Unspeakable, it's great to hear Frisell tackle a similar groove-based concept and hit harder and more memorably. While he's known for his effected tone and embrace of atmospherics, Frisell can really work a melody. Disc one's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Pipe Down" blossom into beautiful epiphanies, with drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Viktor Krauss providing interaction that bucks rhythmic monotony but defers to Frisell for all its brilliant moments.
Disc two, culled from four nights at the Village Vanguard with Tony Scherr replacing Krauss, offers shorter tracks and more varied style, opening with a pair of straight-swinging standards that nod to the venue's history and becoming increasingly "Frisell" as it wears on. The stark, delay-decorated "Ron Carter" displays exactly how little Frisell need play to compel, while takes on Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" and Willie Nelson's "Crazy" draw the line between other players' improv-Americana intentions and the leader's mastery of the concept.
East/West justifies a Frisell fan's obsession and, for the uninitiated and curious, it's Frisell 101.