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Less is more with these two

When the duo is Bill Frisell on guitar and Joey Baron on drums, creativity makes a trio.

January 12, 2008|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

A guitar-and-drum set duo may sound like far too limited an instrumental recipe to produce tempting contemporary jazz. But the performance by guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Joey Baron at the Jazz Bakery on Thursday night proved that, in the hands of gifted players, even the sparest elements can produce remarkable results.

Reminiscent, although with very different musical qualities, of the creatively empathetic, spontaneous exchanges between sitar and tabla during Indian music programs, the playing of Frisell and Baron was as challenging and exploratory as it was engaging and entertaining. The opening tune, "You Are My Sunshine," immediately recalled Frisell's fascination with Americana. What he did with it, however, took a radical left turn from its country roots. Deconstructing the song's elements, adding dissonant harmonic jabs, parrying with Baron's shifting rhythms, he brought new life and vigor to the familiar melody.

A similar pattern was repeated in other songs. "Alfie" and "The Days of Wine and Roses" underscored Frisell's musical eclecticism, his capacity to find challenging qualities in far-reaching genres.

Next, an unidentified swing number allowed Baron to take the spotlight, with Frisell vamping a hypnotically repetitive riff behind a bombastic drum solo -- a striking contrast from the more sensitively layered percussion playing Baron applied to the other material.

Frisell and Baron alone would have made for an extraordinary evening, but an added element transformed the program into a memorable one, as well, when Frisell invited Van Dyke Parks onstage to play a few numbers. As musically sly and whimsical as he has been throughout his four-decade career, Parks played accordion and piano in a set of tunes reaching from his 1995 collaboration with Brian Wilson, "Orange Crate Art," and Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" to the Argentine tango, "El Choclo."

One could only hope that the Frisell-Parks partnership, supported by Baron's insightful drumming, will soon find its way onto a CD.

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