Bill Frisell Brings JVC Jazz Fest To An Atmospheric Close

Guitarist reunites with drummer Joey Baron for empathetic set.

NEW YORK — There was good news and bad news at the closing concert of the JVC Jazz Festival Saturday.

The good news was that guitarist Bill Frisell's gig at Symphony Space featured a band that included drummer Joey Baron, with whom he hadn't played since Live, their 1995 trio record with bassist Kermit Driscoll.

The bad news was the absence of the scheduled opener, guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps, who canceled because of illness.

"I was really looking forward to hearing Kelly Joe," Frisell said, "and more than that, I was really excited about playing with him."

So was the audience. "I love Frisell, have seen him a million times, but I really wanted to see the two of them play together," Mary Beth Jarrett, 28, of New York said.

Frisell's group, featuring bassist David Piltch, Dobro and slide player Greg Leisz and Baron, wasted little time settling into a common space.

They coalesced in an atmospheric version of singer/songwriter John Hiatt's soulful ballad "Have a Little Faith in Me" (RealAudio excerpt). The guitarist improvised over the chord changes, quoting the song's familiar melody only at the end.

Frisell and Leiz finished each other's phrases in a complementary way. On a slow, countrified blues, the two traded phrases in such a laid-back fashion that Symphony Space seemed transformed into a thousand-seat back porch.

Throughout the set, Baron jumped confidently into the music — which he had never heard. He and Frisell seemed to have an almost telepathic rapport, with the guitarist providing a bridge between his group and the drummer's explosive displays.

"I love Bill Frisell, and I really enjoyed this evening," said Darren Gibbs, a music student in New York. "But I wish he would cease being the Garrison Keillor of the guitar, get back with his old group with Baron and play more avant-noise like he is capable of doing."

The set included several untitled compositions that are scheduled to be included on Frisell's next CD, due in late fall.

Bassist Piltch noted that Frisell doesn't usually provide titles to his pieces until he issues them on CD. "I don't even know names of the tunes we play," he said.

That explains why Frisell rarely told the audience the titles of tunes he had just played. But knowing the titles apparently didn't matter to the crowd, which demanded two encores.