Walker Art Center

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Baghdad/Seattle Suite
Bill Frisell presents his newest musical expedition

Unquestionably one of the most revered musicians in the jazz world, Bill Frisell comes together with current Grammy nominee and Iraqi oud master Rahim AlHaj and acclaimed violist and erhu player Eyvind Kang for a residency at the Walker that will culminate in an adventurous evening of East-meets-West compositions. While Kang and AlHaj are relative newcomers to the McGuire stage, the Walker has a long history with Frisell, the Grammy Award–winning guitarist and composer who debuted here in 1986, before he had even made any recordings. “It’s one of the most important places for me as far as allowing things to happen that are in my imagination,” he says.

In 1999, Frisell premiered a septet at the Walker and also laid the groundwork for his milestone recording Blues Dream. Now he returns to launch an exploration of traditional Iraqi maqams, Americana, and jazz. The ancient tones of AlHaj’s oud and Frisell’s masterful guitar are spanned by Kang’s interests in new music, folk, rock, and Middle Eastern melodies. “He’s almost like a translator,” says Frisell of Kang, with whom he has played for years. While he admits to not knowing much about Iraqi music, he has wanted to collaborate with AlHaj since he first heard his music, and considers the residency a kind of musical expedition. “There’s no way it won’t work if everybody wants to be there and is open and listening. It’s not about competition or being correct. There are no rules, so nothing can really go wrong.”

The New Yorker described Frisell as being associated with “two of jazz’s border towns”—one it dubbed “Jazz Americana” and the other, a knottier, experimental “Minefield America.” But when asked how Baghdad/Seattle Suite might relate to these genres, Frisell just chuckled. “When I’m playing music, the farthest thing from my mind is what it’s called or where it is. It’s always after the fact that someone needs to say what it is. So it’s impossible for me to say now where it’s all coming from.” As an itinerant performer with a harried schedule, the main thing he’s anticipating is the “amazing luxury” of a musical residency at the Walker: “There are so many places where I show up and there are 10 minutes to get it together and make things work. It will be so cool to be in the same place for more than one day and let things simmer.”

Walker Magazine January/February 2010