BILL FRISELL @ ROYCE HALL
It’s a quiet night in Westwood as Seattle cartoonist Jim Woodring’s kaleidoscopic visions unveil on the Royce Hall screen, Rorschach tests and other shapes slowly morphing into vase faces as the Bill Frisell Trio (jazz guitarist and composer Bill Frisell, who’s worked with everyone from John Zorn to Petra Haden; Lounge Lizards bassist Tony Scherr; and Tom Waits’ drummer Kenny Wollesen) plays alongside them. Faces with maces for eyes, dissected frogs and smiling clowns – it’s as if Woodring is working in the same vein as graphic artist Charles Burns if Burns were a carver of cameos. Now here’s Woodring’s self-proclaimed “generic anthropomorph” Frank, a buck-toothed creature traveling through a black-and-white animated diorama wasteland, encountering strange sniveling pig-men and a big jar of bones on his way to have a picnic. The Trio’s music at points is reminiscent of everything from Tom Waits to The Durutti Column to Popol Vuh, with plenty of wah, echo and twang besides. Woodring’s subsequent film involves a pig-man running riot over the picnic and ranting mutely at Frank; in another short, Frank meets a devil rising from the jar of bones, inducing him to become a devil himself and assassinate a mannequin, the base of which reads “And you call yourself a gentleman.” The Trio then heads to loftier climes, scoring a work by experimental filmmaker / documentarian Bill Morrison: “The Bells,” a disintegrating 1926 silent Boris Karloff film, is re-animated so that the images swim through a bubbling sea of boiling film, as though each frame is about to burst into flame at any moment. A man – Lionel Barrymore, grand-uncle to Drew Barrymore and the vile and venal Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life” – steals the gold money belt of a “Polish Jew” and a Mesmerist (Karloff) makes him confess what he did with the body. There is no resolution – no end – to the film. It ends abruptly. Likely that’s the point: that there is no ultimate resolution to murder beyond confession, an act that contains a kind of penitence in itself. The characters passing across the screen are ultimately abraded away by Morrison’s art, becoming wraithlike and spectral at the end. The Trio then scores two Buster Keaton silent shorts: “The High Sign” and “One Week.” Both are intensely hilarious and the art of the film glides seamlessly along the art of the music, welcomed with much applause in the packed house. In one of the most cynical and blasé cities in the world, they should know better – but because of the alchemy of this sound and that vision, they don’t care. As well it should be.