Guitarist Bill Frisell doesn't worry about genres and musical classifications. He has a Promethean command of harmony and can improvise in pretty much any context. From pop to free jazz, from American folk to world music-he's played it all in an evolving style that's gauzy and ambient one minute, muscular and elemental the next.
But does that mean he's still a jazz guitarist? The 56-year-old Grammy winner and perennial habitué of jazz "best of" lists isn't sure. After being asked about the labels people place on his music, his already disconcertingly gentle voice takes on a Zen-like calm as he describes his take on the boundless nature of music.
"I've always felt uncomfortable with the names that people put on everything," says Frisell, who plays the Majestic Theatre on Sunday. "For me music is just this ocean of infinite possibilities. There shouldn't be these rules that this can't be with this."
This summer, Frisell scored ecstatic reviews for his most recent album, Floratone. A collaboration with pop-rock percussionist Matt Chamberlain and the producers Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend, the album is built from a series of very informal recording sessions. But what began as a couple of friends "just messing around" while on break from their busy performing and recording schedules quickly turned into an entirely different kind of project when the two Seattle-based musicians decided to give their producer friends free rein at the mixing desk. That resulted in a set of suggestive, Americana-laced tracks that flow together seamlessly thanks to the looping and other electronic processing Martine and Townsend used to shape them into songs. Critics have compared the process to the way in which producer Teo Macero and Miles Davis shaped hours of studio recordings into the jazz-rock masterwork Bitches Brew.
Frisell's flattered by the analogy, of course, and pleased with the album itself. But he's also quick to say that it represents only a small portion of his current musical ideas. And he adds that what some have called his best album in several years is unlikely to be re-created for a live audience.
"We can't tour it," he says. "It's really just this one-off project. I guess I'm just this terrible person. The way the music industry works, where a band puts out an album and then goes out on tour and plays that album - music doesn't work for me that way."
So what will Frisell be doing at the Majestic Theatre? Well, Chamberlain won't be in the fold. In fact, the trio he's bringing doesn't include a percussionist. Instead, he'll concentrate on the long musical conversation he's been having with dobro, lap steel and pedal steel player Greg Leisz and violinist Jenny Scheinman over the course of several albums with various leaders and many tours. Leisz's shimmering lines blend easily with the electronic effects Frisell often employs to embellish the sound of his guitar.
"I think we kind of complement each other. Sometimes I describe him as the other half of my brain. Whatever I play, he'll play that other thing I was thinking about playing."
Frisell also notes that part of the reason he keeps working with musicians like Leisz and Scheinman is that they draw the music out of him.
"That's kind of what I'm counting on [as a leader]. And I guess it's kind of selfish, too. I get so much from the people I'm playing with. It's really what gets me going."