Behind guitarist Bill Frisell’s affable demeanor there’s a steely-willed artist whose creative ambitions span the continent. Since his early days on the Downtown Manhattan scene in the mid-1970s, when he became a key collaborator with John Zorn, Frisell has steadily expanded his sonic purview, staking a claim to an ever-greater range of media, material, and musical traditions. From Charles Ives and Aaron Copland to Buster Keaton and Bob Dylan, from urban thrash and American Songbook ballads to country blues and Nashville twang, Frisell distills the essence of the American experience.
Superstar producer Hal Willner and gonzo artist Ralph Steadman are central to Frisell’s second SFJAZZ program, the world premiere of The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, from last year’s album of the same name on 429 Records. Designed like a radio play, Kentucky Derby features Willner, director Chloe Webb and Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins delivering Hunter S. Thompson’s notorious article about the 1970 horse race for Scanlan’s Monthly. According to JazzTimes, Frisell’s score “has the soured grandeur of faded Southern aristocracy, as if Stephen Foster had been soaked in Benzedrine and bourbon.” These events are can’t-miss evenings of hallucinatory beauty and raucous humor from an American original