Bill Frisell returns to his "oasis"

It's been nearly a decade since the Walker Art Center commissioned Bill Frisell to produce Blues Dream, a musical work he'd later record into an album on Nonesuch Records. The Grammy-winning guitarist, who returns to the Twin Cities this week, has lived on each coast -- but this part of the world remains close to his heart.

"Minneapolis in general has been an oasis for me -- a really cool place," said Frisell from his Seattle-area home. "Way back in the 80s, the Walker was one of the first places in the states where I was able to play my own music. The Cedar, where I'm going to play this time, is a pretty rare entity -- the place that gives you space to play what you want to play, and where there always seems to be an audience."

Frisell's body of work is so broad that it defies pithy description, and his proficiency in numerous genres leaves one who has followed his career asking a seemingly inane question before a show: so what style can the live listener expect this time around? It's easy to say "jazz." The angels and devils are, as they say, in the details.

"The styles I play have so much to do with whatever I'm playing with," he said. Though he's played with each musician that will be at the Cedar show -- Rudy Royston on drums, Greg Leisz on lap and pedal steel guitar, and Tony Scherr on bass -- this will be the first time that particular combo has performed together, creating space for new experiments.

Innovation is no stranger to the prolific Frisell, whose work includes traditional jazz, folk, classical and country music -- as well as experimental noise. His work with noted avant composer John Zorn and the group Naked City represented a shift for the guitarist, not just in terms of musical style but they way he conceived creating spontaneous music.

Prior to their collaboration, Frisell had been schooled in the Sonny Rollins/Thelonious Monk model of improvisation: generate a theme and riff on it, seeing where the musical flow takes you. With Naked City, suddenly he was "trying to make a very clear musical idea happen in a few seconds and then move on to something else. It was like having my brain chopped up into little pieces," he remembers.

Asked about what are the favorite moments from his career so far, Frisell again turns to Minneapolis, saying that Blues Dream was a moment when a bunch of different concepts became clear inside him. In a career that must include many such moments, this is no small statement. And it's a process that continues.

"It's all a big work in progress," says the soft-spoken guitar virtuoso. "Everything is a step on the way to the next thing."

Frisell's quartet plays the Cedar tomorrow, June 21, with doors at 7 p.m. and music at 8 p.m.

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