Bill Frisell calls violinist Jenny Scheinman, viola player Eyvind Kang and cellist Hank Roberts his ‘dream string section’ and on albums like 2011’s Sign of Life and 2013’s Big Sur you can hear why. There’s an elegant simplicity and a wonderful sense of flow to their music. The development feels so seamless and organic it’s as if the tunes are playing themselves and you’re left with the impression of a meeting of minds, of four musicians who share one another’s vision and who know each other’s playing intimately.
On this, the first of two nights at Ronnie Scotts, they didn’t quite reach those dizzy heights and the great American guitarist seemed a little out of sorts – quieter than usual and reluctant to solo – but there was still plenty to enjoy about the set.
Frisell being Frisell, Americana was a prominent theme, established early with ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and ‘Pastures of Plenty’, tunes from a recent Woody Guthrie project. Opening with a small town country feel, the quartet sauntered into a lazy blues that peaked with a wonderful, bleary-eyed violin solo for Scheinman, full of yawning glissandi.
There was more from the American West in the second half, with the strings striding through ‘Going to California’ and the fat, surf rock groove of ‘The Big One’ (both tracks from Big Sur) before shootin’ the breeze in cowboy country with a rendition of ‘Verona’. But references came from further afield too. A brief foray into Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ was lifted by exploratory contributions from Kang, his slides between notes recalling the sound of the Chinese erhu fiddle, and a nostalgic amble through the theme from Bond film You Only Live Twice (set in Japan) brought further eastern inflections.
As for those fabled moments of interplay, it was there in the twisted bebop head of ‘Skippy’ and in the web of fragile guitar lines, murmuring pizzicato viola and rasping cello that prefaced ‘Blue in Green’ – a tantalising glimpse of what this electrified string quartet can do when they’re at their best.
— Thomas Rees
— Image: Wikicommons