Jazz series branches out with Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell, a Grammy-winning guitarist, performed his newest album “Harmony” alongside Petra Haden with vocals, Hank Roberts on cello and vocals and Luke Bergman on baritone guitar and vocals in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel on Friday, Feb. 7. The program asserted that the quartet “annihilates the concept of genre,” and the group delivered. The space they inhabited on the stage seemed smaller because of a rug they all sat on with their chairs in a half-circle facing each other. This led to a feeling of intimacy that extended to the audience, despite the large space of the chapel. It felt like a jam session between friends that one could happen to stumble upon. 

To begin the concert, the music was atmospheric enough that it was hard to imagine how it could ever resolve itself, then in an instant it crystallized into a melody that could be followed clearly. As they moved into the next pieces, the same motifs recurred, but with new elements included at each turn of the songs. They worked well as a group, breaking down occasionally to highlight one part of the quartet. Between the lyricism and the tone of the music, the mood flowed seamlessly from somewhere near folk music to a bluesy sound and back again. Each song was marked with themes that felt mournful at times but were tinged with hope and care. They played a song they had never been played live before called “Saints and Angels,” which was written by Frisell’s guitar teacher in New York. To this, Frisell said, “It’s all gonna work itself out. Music is incredible that way. Things always seem to work themselves out.” This sentiment could be traced throughout the concert.  Though Frisell did not sing in any of the pieces played, the vocals from the other members acted as both an environment for the guitar to be featured, as well as their own entities. Reaching almost barbershop quartet levels of harmonies on one song, Roberts went into a deep vocal fry, prompting laughter from the audience. Another notable moment was toward the end of the concert, when the music was really spacious once again, and then suddenly, they were singing “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. There were sounds of surprised delight through the crowd. Despite the surprise of it, the song fit snugly into the world of music created that night, a vague but present narrative. The audience clapped out a standing ovation, then the group returned for an encore piece. Haden’s voice was powerful as she sang the words to Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome.” She stood up halfway through the middle of the song, fist in the air. Once she was confident that the audience had caught on to the melody, she asked for them to join her. So, the room was filled with voices singing, “Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome someday.” It brought a warmth that met what Frisell is quoted to have said in the program: music is a uniting force.