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John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet at the Earshot Jazz Festival

Bill Frisell

The trio is a comfortable setting for Bill Frisell. Sparsely furnished and infinitely flexible, the format has elicited some of his most creative and spontaneous playing over the years. Yet even that foreknowledge could hardly prepare a listener for the revelation of Frisell’s newest threesome, featuring organist Sam Yahel and drummer Brian Blade. The first two sets of their New York debut illuminated the cavernous depths of Frisell’s imagination and reaffirmed the power of his artistry.

Things began tentatively, as Frisell wandered through a catalogue of quiet harmonic effects. Gradually, a ghostly ostinato emerged from the void, to which Blade added the dark hues of a ride cymbal. Not quite a song but not exactly free, the almost-groove ended abruptly, with the turn of a knob, and segued into Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso,” a favorite standard of Frisell’s. Even this, though, was an ethereal offering. Despite a loping four-on-the-floor swing feel, the musicians only pecked at their instruments. Yahel in particular sounded unsure, as if he were distracted by another song in the distance.

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