There’s a unique pleasure that comes with being a fan of jazz or what could be more generally referred to as improvised music. Sometimes musical pairings among heavyweights that sound akin to far-fetched debates behind comic book store counters (“What would happen if Spider-Man fought Superman?”) eventually become a reality. And attention must be paid.
This was the feeling in approaching the Mint on Wednesday evening, the final night of Matt Chamberlain’s monthlong residency. The show already felt like an event in teaming the ace session drummer with guitarist Bill Frisell, and once word spread that L.A.'s own musical gadfly — and top-notch improvisor in his own right — Jon Brion would be sitting in as well, there was no wonder a line at the door stretched down Pico Boulevard.
While there was at least a reference point for Frisell and Chamberlain’s collaborations (the two came together most recently in the cut-and-paste songscapes of the latest Floratone record), Brion was the wild card. Would he play piano? Bass? Add Beatle-esque flourishes akin to his songs that highlighted his free-form shows at Largo?
Turns out none of the above. Carving out space with Frisell on an assortment of guitars and an ominous contraption above his amp that looked like a control panel from a decommissioned battleship, Brion was less the pop architect who produced high-profile records for Best Coast and Kanye West and more a genre-skipping musical conjurer.
Not that he was alone, of course. The night felt like a meeting of master magicians, each pulling sounds and melodies out of a hat that began as nothing but effortlessly coalesced into living, shape-shifting songs.
With Frisell seated and hardly visible over a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in the first set, the trio touched on a swampy, swirling sort of spaghetti western blues that Chamberlain playfully back-introduced as “Alligator Leg.” Frisell and Chamberlain later led the group into a dusty, Southwestern-hued detour that could’ve been an outtake from Ry Cooder’s music for “Paris, Texas,” while another song briefly sounded like Sonic Youth covering Dick Dale as Chamberlain led the trio with a galloping, hitch-laden beat.
A mournful piece from the second set centered on a glistening texture that rose out of Brion feathering the lower neck of his guitar sounded like a requiem made for a moonless night, while a later, less-structured piece found the trio on a diabolical mix of electronics (including Brion’s battleship console) that became something resembling a lost score for “The Ring” movies.
Words tend to fail for these kinds of creations. The band had no name, would probably never come together again, and even if they did there’s no assurance it could sound the same way (though it’s sure worth hoping they try). It was a one-of-a-kind night, and it’s gone. Yet somehow, it’s just that quality that keeps the faithful among us coming back for more.