I've been spoiled by my Frisellian experiences. Watching him in the intimacy of the now-departed spectrum, both shows were full of heart-rending melodicism, with Frisell's endearingly strange guitar tone seeping in through my pores, emphatically moving me towards laughter or sorrow. In the much larger space of Jean-Duceppe, I wondered if that would happen again.
For the majority of the set, it did not. Tony Scherr was his usual self, dancing around with his upright bass and providing the exact bottom the tunes needed - a cushion on "Moon River," dirty walking, or angular broken feels. Ron Miles was the sound of surprise here, with his clarion melodies suddenly dissipating into extended trumpet techniques, and playing underneath Frisell in pedal tone. Rudy Royston responded to Frisell's music like a modern jazz drummer would. Which is to say, he was lacking the ragged, surprising edginess that characterizes Frisell's interface with Matt Chamberlain, Joey Baron and Kenny Wollesen. He was a fantastic player, whose music I greatly enjoyed, don't get me wrong. There was a certain novelty in hearing Frisell's music framed by that particular style of drumming. He was missing that wonk factor that would have elevated his hookup with Frisell and Scherr. The set was constantly attention-grabbing, and everyone played great. It was just missing that weird sense of emotional engagement that characterizes so much of Frisell's music for me.
The band hit that other level in the encores, reaching that epic grandeur of the Spectrum shows. Coming out to thunderous applause, Frisell set up an electronic soundscape that sounded like a music box and an Atari in a punch-up. The band eventually coalesced into "Baba Drame," which then led into Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now." Here it was - that keening melodic cry, from a band fused together, that dares you to be unmoved.
The second encore was prefaced by a rare Frisell speech. After noodling with the first three notes, he said, "I played this song on nearly every gig for eight years. And then one night I was playing with Rudy, and there was a big celebration, and I didn't feel like I needed to play it anymore." Following that, he launched into another fabulous and gutwrenching version of "A Change is Gonna Come." Whether it was necessary or not, it was more than welcome. As always, Frisell has wrangled his way near the top of my Jazz Fest list.