By S. Victor Aaron
Pardon me as I continue on the topic of Bill Frisell The Sideman on an interpretation of a Miles Davis fusion deep cut.
In the back of a Paris taxicab, probably sometime in the mid 1970s, three aspiring musicians were gobsmacked from the music playing on the radio. It was the early fusion side-long jam Great Expectations" recorded by Miles Davis shortly after Bitches Brew. For one of these musicians, Big Fun, the album that this song first appeared on, would become the first record of his record collection in the jazz realm. All three would, like Miles, go on to challenge the very notion of what is jazz and tug on its artificial boundaries.
Those musicians were the drummer Joey Baron, bassist Kermit Driscoll and a guitarist by the name of Bill Frisell.
Joey Baron is best known for his contributions on much of John Zorn's most respected works, as well as performing with artists as diverse as Stan Getz, Laurie Anderson, Steve Kuhn and David Bowie. Driscoll, the guy who went out and got Columbia's odds 'n' ends collection of Davis fusion recordings Big Fun (1974), mostly made his mark in former fellow Berklee classmate Frisell's band from 1987 to 1996 (Baron was a member of this band for a while too). Driscoll has also applied his bass service to recordings by Zorn, David Johansen, Wayne Horvitz and John Hollenbeck.
Frisell? Pfft, he needs no introduction here.
Frisell and Baron have both established themselves as leaders, but Driscoll never had a record under his own name. He finally will on April 5th when Reveille releases and in selecting the band to play on his debut, Driscoll reaches forward and way back: Kris Davis is an up and coming pianist (Jon Irabagon, John Hollenbeck) who Driscoll met at a rehearsal. For a drummer, Driscoll called on his old pal Vinnie Colaiuta, another old colleague from the Berklee days. Of course, he also brought in Frisell.
Driscoll didn't make a record full of bass solos, instead, he composed mainly songs around the bass with the bass playing in its conventional role. Most of the harmonics up front was left to Frisell, and his lead role lends itself to being similar to a late 80s-early 90s Fris record, not a bad thing to be compared against. But Driscoll's angular, genre defying compositions provide the perfect platform for these maestros to do their thing in a democratic fashion, whether it's the folky-funk of Boomstatz," the experimental rock of Thank You," the avant-garde jazz that is Ire," the mutated blues of For Hearts," or the delightfully quirky take on the trad farm ditty Chicken Reel."
As good as these tunes are, the highest point comes when Driscoll relives Miles' recording of Joe Zawinul's Great Expectations," as a power trio: no Kris Davis, and Driscoll on electric bass. To put it to you straight, everyone is playing their hard rockin' asses off. Colaiuta's muscular cymbals and fills evokes Billy Cobham on Jack Johnson. Frisell fuzzes up his guitar and lobs pedal effects and loops with masterful discretion, and Driscoll finds the groove that can best be described as approximating the Theme from Peter Gunn" in 7/8 time.
When that slow strutting groove get nice and warm, Frisell states the thematic line, which was repeated over and over in the original, fourteen minute version. Here, it only gets a few go arounds. Somewhere in the middle of the performance, the songs crash lands, and from the ashes it reappears but at a quicker pace. Liberally changing roles between lead guitar and accompanist, Bill spins off distant walls of atmospherics from his FX bag of tricks, building up to another climatic chorus and Driscoll noodles eerily in a upper reaches of his bass guitar before bringing the song to a softer, washed away ending. The 8:50 run time is just about right.
Here's one Miles cover I actually prefer over the original. The 1969 version did have all those exotic Indian instruments going for it, and Miles ethereal horn returning to Zawinul's dark theme. Driscoll & Friends gets the nod for adding muscle to the textures, and getting the job done more concisely.
What began as a moment of discovery in a French taxi decades ago culminates into this recording. It's been one hell of a ride.
Reveille will be offered up by 19/8 Records. Go hit up Kermit's site over here.
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