Frisell, live, falls short of his far-ranging album

Special to The Times

Guitarist Bill Frisell’s latest album, “Intercontinentals,” is a dramatic expansion of the musical eclecticism that has characterized his long career. Blending his jazz, blues and country roots with the music of Brazil, Greece, Mali and beyond, the album discovers compelling, boundary-free creative linkages.

Surprisingly, however, the live performance of selections from the album at Royce Hall on Sunday rarely achieved a similar degree of believability. On the album, a tendency to rely on vamps -- repetitious melodic and rhythmic phrases -- produced some appealing, trance-like qualities. In performance, however, the same practice emerged as music in stasis, lacking motion or development.

Frisell’s occasional use of dissonant interplay with violinist Jenny Scheinman, spiced with bursts of feedback electronics and looped sound, added some much-needed coloration to the vamp patterns. And the tinge of folk qualities and blues phrases simmering across the repeated phrases alluded to what the music was clearly intended to be.

But too often the vamp-like numbers -- even a promising tribute to Malian guitarist Boubacar Traore -- felt less like trance music interspersed with global references than like a remedy for insomnia.


The performance was far more arresting when singer-guitarist-percussionist Vinicius Cantuaria, oud player Christos Govetas and percussionist Sidiki Camara stepped into the spotlight. Cantuaria’s haunting, bossa nova-tinged vocals, with their underpinnings of subtly moving harmonies, brought life and substance to the evening. So did Camara, with a stirring djembe solo, and Govetas, displaying both the warmth and the fluidity of his instrument. In those moments, the term “Intercontinentals” found its true musical meaning.