Frisell and Mehldau Trios put unique spins on jazz

by Kevin Garland | 1/19/04 6:00am

The Brad Mehldau and the Bill Frisell Trios played a combination of jazz, rock and instrumental genres to a receptive audience in Spaulding Auditorium Friday. Mehldau's group started off the night with a slow jazz performance, enhanced by his poignant piano performance, which seemed to define the group. Frisell's group performed second, playing a memorable combination of jazz and rock.

Mehldau and company began with two serene pieces. The second was the superior of the two, a Cuban bolero named "Tres Palabras." It had a romantic flow with a hint of old Spanish flair. On the drums was Jorge Rossy, a musician born in Barcelona, Spain. While he sometimes contributed a nice rhythm to the music, his performance wasn't the most impressive. His love for the drums was apparent, but he didn't have the enthusiasm or fervor that would have made this trio more interesting to listen to. I felt bored on a few occasions by the weakness of the pieces; sometimes a backbone seemed to be missing.

Mehldau's piano solos shone through the occasional slow parts. His skill at manipulating notes was very entertaining to watch. As well, the way he connected with the other two instruments was impressive. On occasion, however, Mehldau's melodies seemed to get stuck in a small variety of keys, instead of employing a wide range of notes. But this only added to the serenity that this trio expressed.

Bassist Larry Grenadier added a nice background texture to the performance. He was put into the lime-light during their third piece, which was much more upbeat. This composition was different from the other works, and Grenadier showed his ability to use the bass.

The Mehldau Trio ended on a slow song, which combined a hint of classical music with their style of jazz. Overall, the audience liked these musicians, despite their lack of energy and spirit. Perhaps their musical talents would have been better showcased by a quicker pace.

Bill Frisell and his Trio also received a warm welcome on stage. The style of this second group was quite different, and seemed much more alive. In the first song, Frisell's talent on the guitar was impeccable. His knowledge of how to precisely distort the guitar's sounds and get each note right was immediately apparent.

Tony Scherr, the bass player in this trio also demonstrated more mastery over the instrument then Larry Grenadier, the bassist of the first group. Although they performed respectively different styles, Scherr had much more confidence over the instrument and added a lot more overall.

On the drums was Kenny Wollesen, who also played to a much more upbeat tune. He ardently played the drums and was more interesting to watch than the first performance. His ability was seen in the quickness of his hands and the way in which he molded to Frisell's use of the guitar.

Despite their generally brisk performance, Frisell's Trio took a slower turn during their second song, showing their ability to change the pace in a moment. The second piece wasn't quite as enjoyable as the first, but it still showed the talent of the Trio.

The Frisell Trio was a dramatic change from the Mehldau Trio, and showed off its strength of musicianship in its full glory. Frisell himself was amazing on the guitar, and Scherr and Wollesen were also respectively good on the bass and drums. Altogether, this performance was more enjoyable, and livelier. The distorted guitar could've been considered outrageous and not belonging to jazz at first, but it was employed effectively, and after awhile, the audience delved into the Frisell Trio's performance.

Comparing the two performances is difficult to do. They both had their individual styles, and talented artists. Both were worthwhile to attend, with the Frisell Trio showing off a little more energy, showing how jazz can be expressed in such different ways.