This week the SFJAZZ Center is presenting guitarist Bill Frisell in his capacity as Resident Artistic Director. Each of his concerts involves a different form of collaboration. This began last night with an evening that was basically structured as a pair of duo sets. Alto saxophonist Greg Osby joined Frisell for the first set, while the second set featured Geri Allen.
Both of these pairings seemed to have less to do with conversation and more with basic juxtaposition. All three of these musicians are highly inventive. Frisell is particularly gifted in introducing a familiar tune through the barest fragments of suggestion, allowing a generous span of time to elapse before the tune is easily recognized. Allen was particularly good at working with this style, dividing her time between serving as a “creative accompanist” (the spirit of seventeenth-century continuo work combined with the flesh of some of Count Basie’s often minimal rhetoric) and exploring her own takes on the tune. Osby, on the other hand, seemed more interested in exploring the superposition of decidedly different solo lines.
Because Frisell’s skills as a listener are on the same par with his skills as an instrumentalist, the approaches of both of his partners worked equally successfully. Through his awareness of the other player’s activities, he could work towards either sharing or contrasting material with the same level of cognitive dexterity. One might almost say that last night the music was a “felicitous side-effect” of the more fundamental activity of performing. Each set was “about” an encounter between two creative minds; and experiencing the act of engagement between those minds was as fascinating as what emerged from that engagement.