Bill Frisell plays in Bend

Guitar virtuoso will explore “Guitar in the Space Age”

By Ben Salmon / The Bulletin / @frequencyblog

Published Jan 24, 2014 at 12:11AM

If you go

What: Bill Frisell’s “Guitar in the Space Age”

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Cost: $30 plus fees, available through the venue

Where: Tower Theatre, 835 N.W. Wall St., Bend

Contact: www.towertheatre .org, 541-317-0700

Bill Frisell is a renowned composer, a revered guitar player and a frequent flyer. When he picks up the phone to chat with The Bulletin, he’s in the airport in Austin, Texas.

Before Austin, he was in Denver for a night. And before Denver, he was in New York City. The flight he’s about to board will take him to San Francisco, where he’ll play three nights before heading to Bend for a show at the Tower Theatre (see “If you go”).

“I just want to play. I love playing, so that’s the whole deal,” Frisell said. “The catch is that I have to get on and off all these airplanes and stuff. That’s the hard part. You never get used to that.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Frisell is “the most innovative and influential jazz guitarist of the past 25 years.” But don’t let those very kind words fool you: He is as adventurous as he is virtuosic, regularly stretching outside the confines of jazz and into folk and country, classical works, avant-garde music and beyond.

On Tuesday in Bend, however, he will narrow his focus onto instrumental guitar music from the mid-20th century, right around the time of the birth of Fender’s famous Telecaster guitar. The show has been dubbed “Guitar in the Space Age,” and the Tower’s website lists its inspirations: Merle Travis, Link Wray, Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Beach Boys and more.

Earlier this week, Frisell himself wasn’t even sure what shape “Guitar in the Space Age” would take.

“The first official gig is this weekend in San Francisco, and we barely have enough time to prepare for that, and then the next one we do is in Bend,” he said. “It’s just very, very brand new.”

Certainly, you can expect Frisell — plus trio partners Kenny Wollesen on drums and Tony Scherr on bass and longtime collaborator Greg Leisz on electric and pedal-steel guitars — to explore the ringing, reverberant sounds of surf-rock, early rock ’n’ roll, twang-pop, Western swing and more.

“I’ve been thinking about doing this for so long. It’s been percolating in my mind,” Frisell said, citing a past performance (with Leisz) of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West’s fast-paced country-jazz as the seed for the “Space Age” show. “I’ve just been thinking a lot about the music that I grew up with. I was born in 1951, pretty much the same time as the Telecaster.”

He continues: “The first guitar music that got me fired up was surf music, and then that led to the British Invasion and all that stuff,” he said. “I was so into the whole idea of surfing, which was so absurd being (from Denver). And there was this great band from there, The Astronauts, who were a surf band. They were from the mountains, they weren’t surfers at all. But this instrumental guitar music was all over the place.”

The program’s name is inspired not only by the era’s sounds, but also a general feeling of optimism for the future that was in the air at the time, Frisell said.

“Being a kid then and thinking about the future, it was like, ‘Wow, it’s going to be so amazing. Everyone’s going to travel around on rocketships and we’re going to go into outer space,’” he said. “At the same time, we were terrified the world was going to blow up because of the atomic bomb. I had to do all that duck-and-cover stuff.

“But there was also just sort of a feeling about the future. Technology hadn’t smothered us,” Frisell said. “I was just young enough that I was still able to believe in it.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0377, bsalmon@bendbulletin.com

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