By effortlessly interlacing every bit of electronic trickery he can muster with his unique vision of what a modern guitar trio should sound like, Bill Frisell incontestably announces himself as the most inventive and musically engaging jazz guitarist performing today. East/West is a two-disc set of live trio performances - one from Yoshi’s in Oakland, California with bassist Viktor Krauss and Kenny Wollensen on drums and the other from Manhattan’s famed Village Vanguard where Tony Scherr replaces Krauss.
To approach the East disc in terms of individual songs does not do justice to the aural cohesiveness of the set. When played from start to finish, each tune gently dissolves into the next creating a thoroughly seamless whole. A monstrous wave of sonic delight is unleashed on "Ron Carter" where the tune starts off innocently enough then progresses into a straight-ahead Frisellian blues romp. Scherr lays down an unflappable cavernous bass line which Wollensen turns inside-out, all the while propelling the music toward some far-off destination that is going to be worth the wait. With his full arsenal of guitar wizardry at his disposal, Frisell assembles a gritty solo ripe with feedback, loops and delays that blossoms into an all out assault on contemporary jazz guitar. The trio interacts with subliminal ease when relaxing the tension of the groove before moving into a brief "Interlude" which sets the scene for the luscious interpretation of "Goodnight Irene". Here, the thickest, most luxurious and sonorous chords drip with heart wrenching emotion as they languidly hover between the speakers.
The West set offers a greater variety of songs for the group to stretch out on from the loping "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and subdued "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" to Viktor Krauss’ evil ostinato signaling some sort of impending doom on "Blues for Los Angeles." Through it all, the trio piles sound upon sound to build a towering edifice of tonal color.
A special nod must be given to producer Lee Townsend for creating an audiophile-caliber recording. It is so utterly involving that its weakest points are the audience’s applause which only serves to snap the listener out the spell that Frisell has cast. Townsend has managed to create holographic sonic images which break free of the confines of the speakers creating a soundstage that extends well beyond the boundaries of a room. At times the music is able to swaddle the listener in a warm and cozy blanket of euphonic bliss.
East/West is undeniably one of Bill Frisell’s finest efforts and progresses in a very natural and proper way. His tone has such texture and depth. His playing throughout displays an uncommon liquidity and harmonic "rightness" that ebbs and flows with each new idea he puts forth. His partners allow him plenty of room to develop any concept he wishes while suggesting more than a few of their own. For those jazz purists who wrinkle their noses at the use of electronic gimmicks, this outing may just be the performance to make them reevaluate their position. Adjust the volume, find a comfortable chair, turn out the lights and allow music of Bill Frisell and company to wash over you. Most highly recommended.