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Live Review: Bill Frisell Guitar Invitational in New York

Five champion pickers join forces during the 2018 Alternative Guitar Summit

Bill Frisell Invitational
L to R: Matt Munisteri, Brandon Ross, Julian Lage, Marvin Sewell, Tony Scherr, Kenny Wollesen, and Bill Frisell at the Bill Frisell Guitar Invitational, Le Poisson Rouge, NYC, June 21, 2018

“These are all my teachers up here,” Bill Frisell said on Thursday night (June 21) at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. He was referring to four of his fellow guitarists—Brandon Ross, Matt Munisteri, Julian Lage, and Marvin Sewell—who share his reverent yet open-ended attitude toward the jazz-guitar tradition, and who’d joined him for his Guitar Invitational, part of the 2018 Alternative Guitar Summit. Over the course of an ably programmed two-hour concert (the second of two shows performed that evening), Frisell, his guests, and his veteran rhythm section of bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen offered an inspired substitute for the tropes of all-star guitar blowout. Whereas even the best jazz-guitar get-togethers—for instance, the various incarnations of the Great Guitars—edge toward the kicks of a cutting contest, Frisell’s concert came off more like a team initiative in musical empathy. Often, the goal onstage seemed to be sheer beauty, with overlapping harmony and rhythmic playfulness the means of getting there.

It was an ethos that descended from Frisell, whose catholic tastes, singular tone, and placid attack have long suggested an antidote to chest-thumping theatrics, and it made perfect sense in the context of the Alternative Guitar Summit. Launched eight years ago by the guitarist, composer, and (full disclosure) occasional JT contributor Joel Harrison, the event has highlighted player’s players in jazz, fusion, experimental, and roots music—or, better yet, guitarists combining elements of those idioms and others. This year’s activities also included a “Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown,” a rare clinic with Frisell, an evening of intergenerational guitar duos at the Jazz Gallery and, wrapping earlier this month, a music camp in the Catskills. It all has the air of a thinking man’s take on guitar culture, less about middle-aged professionals collecting equipment and more about wide listening and the fertility of the New York scene.

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