Delay-gratification – Bill Frisell’s spellbinding solo show at Cadogan Hall


Bill Frisell isn't much of a talker. The music is the message – a sweet synthesis of country, blues and jazz coaxed from his single guitar and a selection of sound-shifting pedals. At times, such is his lack of showmanship, his concentration on the music alone, it seems as if the people behind the EFG London Jazz Festival have airlifted him, mid-home studio noodling session, and dropped him in the middle of Sloane Square without him realising entirely what's happened.

Often, Frisell appears to be playing his delay pedal as much as he is his guitar, an art he has mastered. Half-forgotten motifs ghost gracefully back into the present at the tap of a foot, sometimes transformed and dissonant, sometimes merging sweetly with the moment. It's an undeniably impressive skill, and one which helps to broaden the range of sounds beyond what a solo guitarist is usually capable of.

Even so, solo guitar can perhaps be of the more esoteric forms of jazz music, and the average punter may at times find Frisell's playing slightly abstruse. Indeed, it's likely that the most rapturous applause emanated from those in the room who were themselves guitarists. Then again, there were also clear moments when the entire room was collectively hooked on the mellifluous ordered chaos produced by Frisell's six strings.

As he left the stage, there was a sense that something more was in store, a tell-tale acoustic guitar lying as yet untouched on the stage. Sure enough, the American master re-emerged to whoops and cheers, addressing a few brief words of thanks to the audience before producing his delightful version of The Beatles' 'In My Life'.

It may not be the soaring, 'let's put on a show' jazz on offer in other parts of the festival, but it's thoughtful, big-hearted and, for just one man and a guitar, beguilingly multifaceted.

James Rybacki