Hear and now
New Mexico venues this weekend host a dynamic trio of music makers — guitarist Bill Frisell, violinist Eyvind Kang, and oud player Rahim AlHaj — focusing on a collaborative piece called The Baghdad/Seattle Suite. For Frisell, at least, it represents a rare opportunity to concentrate on something in a relatively relaxing manner.
“We had five days in Minneapolis just last month,” he said by telephone. “It was a fantastic kind of situation at the Walker Art Center. That was where the music really came together. There are little ideas that we all brought, and we had time to get into it without the pressure. I mean, so many things these days seems like you show up the day of the thing and you just have to go for it and do whatever you can do. Probably 99 percent of what I do is like that, so this was like we were in a really nice place and we had all day every day to just play, and the music, you know, had time to come together and evolve.”
The suite is a Creation Fund project of the New Orleans-based National Performance Network that was commissioned by the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque in partnership with NPN and the Walker Art Center. The three musicians perform the work on Friday, March 26, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center and the following two nights at the Outpost Performance Space.
“This is really about just the three of us getting together,” Frisell said. “I’ve been playing with Eyvind about 15 years now. I met Rahim perhaps 10 years ago when I was playing at the Outpost — [Outpost director] Tom Guralnick introduced us — and we said it would be cool if we could play someday, but it kept just floating around, year after year.”
AlHaj, who has played several dates in Northern New Mexico in recent years, was born in Baghdad, Iraq. He studied the oud, a stringed instrument common in the Middle East, with virtuoso Munir Bashir. AlHaj left his native country during the presidency of Saddam Hussein, winding up in Albuquerque in 2000. Since that time, he has toured and released multiple albums.
Kang, now a Seattle resident, was born in Corvallis, Oregon. His music is wide-ranging and often indescribable. Into which bin does he fit at the record store? Check out some of his album titles and try to decide: Sweetness of Sickness; The Story of Iceland; Live Low to the Earth, in the Iron Age; Virginal Coordinates; Orchestra Dim Bridges; and, most recently, Athlantis, a 12-part celebration of out-thereness that was released in 2007. Since then, Kang has guested on projects by Frisell, Red Jacket Mine, Jenny Scheinman, Lou Reed, and a handful of others.
Frisell, born in Baltimore and raised in Denver, made his first guitar using rubber bands and cardboard; his inspiration was the Mickey Mouse Club’s head Mouseketeer, Jimmy. His evolution took a little jump in 1964 when he heard Frank Zappa’s album Freak Out. The year of his 14th birthday, 1965, was a landmark: he used money earned on a newspaper route to buy his first electric guitar (a Fender Mustang), went to his first concert (Herman’s Hermits), and started his first band. His exposure to live music expanded when he saw performances by Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar in 1966, Chuck Berry in 1967, and Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, Gary Burton, and others in 1968.