It became clearer after the show: the article describes Bill Frisell’s style as “Minefield America, a forbidding territory of ascetic, chesslike improvisations—multidirectional interactions in which every note counts, every modulation is eventful, and intense concentration is a prerequisite for player and listener alike.” During the performance I kept picturing interlocking chess pieces, not only due to Frisell but also because of the whole sonic entente of the evening. Sitting equally paced from one another in a semi-circle, Frisell, Eyvind Kang and Rahim AlHaj gave the impression that they had reached a very careful musical agreement. There were no words exchanged between them, and it was clear from the initial moments that this would not be an evening of cordial, noodling, world music fusion. The music was careful, complex, subdued, and subtle. Although the night ended with a lighter piece, with musical phrases that were a little friendlier and a little more familiar, it felt very special to me to have been along for the whole ride. To me, it felt like the players could have been investigating the territory of a musical endgame.
Frisell performed a solo piece during the show that exemplified the “multidirectional interactions” mentioned in the New Yorker: with pedal and looping effects his guitar notes ventured out, then flew back together, reassembling. Frisell, perhaps out of all the players, best evokes a sense of space: listen to Coffaro’s Theme below (also featuring Eyvind Kang–pardon Sean Connery’s mug) and you can almost hear a skyline. YouTube user ‘Lillogambino’ says it better: “Only somebody who knew the city’s feelin could’ve written somethin like that”.
The musicianship throughout Baghdad/Seattle Suite was never less than incredible. Rahim AlHaj set the mood with his spine-tingling vocals, rhythmic playing, and friendly banter with the crowd. And violist Eyvind Kang seemed to make the biggest impression, with his fiercely meticulous playing over an extended solo (I was later told his solo lasted 20 minutes, it seemed effortless) that left the crowd in a state of awe, almost shock. It all made for the most intellectually rewarding music to pass through the Walker this season.