Some years back (I know CREEM Magazine was still publishing) I came across a folk album by Larry Coryell and his wife. !??!??! It wasn't bad, and I think they did a few of them, but one of the 1970s and early 1980s' better jazz guitarists, we may assume, may just not have wanted to crank out "Low-Lee-Tah" with the Eleventh House one more time. Good Japanese monster-movie music, yeah, but you can't blame him. Bill Frisell, who I've always thought was a descendant of Coryell in some ways (especially in his spiky sense of soloing), voyages similar waters here with violinist/singer Petra Haden. I don't get from his recent Jazzier work a feel that he's painting himself into a corner, not hardly, but this CD is out-of-left-field delightful. It shares that unexpected tenet with Frisell's other work!
HADEN/FRISELL isn't particularly folky, but in a way not unlike a duet CD I reviewed last issue, William Galison and Madeleine Peyroux' GOT YOU ON MY MIND (Waking Up Music, USA), there's a certain 'art song' ambience. We haven't heard a whole lot of that on this side of the Atlantic lately; in their time Kurt Weill and the Comedian Harmonists, et al, developed the modern 'pop' song (of course their precursor was Schubert, not Tin Pan Alley) into something nowhere so disposable. Nice to see that idea come back over again to the capital of what my bro' John calls "Hot, Fast and Now America." Listen to Haden's 'knowing ingenue' reading of the Gershwin brothers' "I've Got a Crush on You," and one can hear a cross section (the light jazz-club setting on Frisell's guitar, the long snaking violin lines) of 'arty' and 'beneath a tree in Central Park.' Well done! To journey from sublime to absurd, we also come across here a lovely take of a Foo Fighters song (er, I'm not supposed to know about these things, but some of those guys used to be in the punk/grunge band Nirvana) - let's say some rearranging of "Floaty" was required. Distant power chords drift in the background, while Haden merrily picks the countermelody. A countermelody in a Foo Fighters song? It could happen. Tom Waits' charming "I Don't Want to Grow Up" gets a saucy read: Haden sings straight, the way Fred Astaire did (she might well be horrified to hear the comparison, but that's the thing I most recall about Astaire's many movie musicals. Astaire seemed to hate grace notes. He did the song the way Berlin or George and Ira wrote it...). No affectation, nothing unnecessary. "Bai-laTaigam," a traditional melody from Tuva, a small former Soviet Socialist republic near the Caucasus Mountains, breathes in and out for us the mountain air on a carpet of Frisell's virtuoso guitar feedback and Haden's pedal point chording. Again, dead on, and a certain Swedish lilt to the vocal. Other jolly bits include 'straight, no irony' (yishkod Allah) takes of "When You Wish Upon a Star," Stevie Wonder's "I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever)", aaaaand... Henry Mancini's "Moon River" (in which Haden smiles a secret but hearable smile a la Audrey Hepburn in the original version seen in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S). These two can't miss. Keep listening for Frisell: he, unlike "John Hardy" (the old murder ballad, also included here), never makes a foolish move.
Caveat editor: I hear aImost no Jazz touchstones anywhere, but I'm not sure the concept of this recording had room for them. That happens sometimes. Overall, I think that with the recent release of Brian Wilson's Beach Boys-era masterwork SMILE, the time of the art song has arrived again. I'd like to see HADEN/FRISELL, maybe not the equal of SMILE but certainly a very fine recording, move some units. What are you waiting for?
by Kenneth Egbert