Concert Reviews

Last Night: Ron Miles and Bill Frisell

Ron Miles and Bill Frisell November 27, 2007 Old Main Theater, CU-Boulder

Better than: Seeing these guys in New York

There was a guy sitting behind me who’d just come in after the first set was over, and he was on his cell phone trying to convince his buddy to come and see guitarist Bill Frisell and trumpeter Ron Miles.

“Dude, you’re gonna miss out,” he said. “I mean, this is chance to see Frisell in a space that’s, like, smaller than my living room.”

A few minutes later, he’s trying to explain where the show was.

“It’s right across from Macky,” he said. “It’s that building with the flag on top of it that looks like nothing cool would ever happen in it.”

Thing is, some very, uh, cool stuff had already gone down in the first set. And yeah, the chance to see Miles and Frisell in a space like the Old Main, which Miles said was his favorite room, was a remarkable thing. That, and the fact that the band included drummer Matt Wilson (who’s backed up Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden in the past) and Reginald Veal (long-time bassist with Wynton Marsalis) only added to the fireworks.

The quartet opened with a loose improv, which morphed into Miles’s “Unconditional,” from his Stone album. While Frisell soloed, Miles stood at the side of the stage, clutched his trumpet, and smiled. They then delved into Coltrane’s minor blues “Mr. Sims.” Frisell’s angular solo was a slight juxtaposition to Wilson and Veal’s deep swinging, but it still worked brilliantly. During Miles’ solo he let the notes breathe, leaving a lot of space between them.

Frisell kicked off the Miles tune “Since Forever” with Wilson keeping time with a brush in his right hand splashing on the snare and slapping a tambourine on his knee. The guys then switched gears on Ornette Coleman’s “Happy House” with Wilson swinging something fierce on the ride cymbal. And man, the dude had some of the most amazing sounding ride cymbals I’ve ever heard. Throughout most of the set, Miles played some wonderfully understated and beautiful solos, but he was seriously blasting on “Happy House.” Then Frisell came in, dropping all sorts of little Monk-like nuggets into his solo. All four of the cats were really burning.

They laid back a bit on what sounded like another one of Miles’ compositions, which was followed by a lovely version “Julia,” a song John Lennon wrote for his mother. Frisell and Miles both sounded sublime.

The second set was equally brilliant, with a lot of dynamic interplay between the four musicians. They closed out set with marvelous interpretations of Duke Ellington’s “Black Beauty” and the ballad “I Guess I’ll Just Hang My Tears Out to Dry.”

–Jon Solomon

Critic’s Notebook
 Personal Bias: I’ll see Frisell any chance I can get. He’s my favorite guitarist at the moment. I’ve seen Frisell more in Colorado over the last few months than I ever did over the six years I lived in New York. Random Detail: Longmont-based guitarist Dale Bruning, who taught Frisell early on, was in the crowd. By the Way: If I hadn’t received an email from Creative Music Works the day of the show, I probably wouldn’t have found out about the gig.

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Sean Cronin