Musicians Bill Frisell and Petra Haden to bring musical magic to Englert Theatre

Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and musician Petra Haden will perform on Saturday as a duo at the Englert Theatre, bringing musical magic to the stage with unique collaborations.



Bill Frisell during his first show of the night with his Bill Frisell Trio at the Temple Building Theater.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

Guitar strings hum warmly against lilting, orchestral sounds of a violin, as dreamy harmonies weave into the instrumental sounds. This is the culmination of the musical talents of Bill Frisell and Petra Haden.

The duo will bring their euphonious music to the Englert Theatre on Saturday.

Frisell is a jazz guitarist, composer, and arranger. He has had a 40-year-long career, during which time he has recorded a number of acclaimed albums, including “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Music IS,” and “Blues Dream.”

Frisell has collaborated with numerous other artists throughout his career. On his latest album “Four,” he records with musicians Greg Tardy, Gerald Clayton, and Johnathan Blake. He decided to work with Petra Haden after the two met in the late ‘90s at one of Frisell’s gigs in Seattle.

Haden is a singer, instrumentalist, and composer known for her unique vocal and violin arrangements, as well as her work as a member of the alt band, That Dog. Frisell worked with her father, the late Charlie Haden, who was a jazz double bass player, bandleader, composer, and educator.

Haden grew up loving music because of the way it made her feel and the way she understood it through cinema, having first fallen in love with the score of the 1978 film “Superman.” Movie soundtracks have influenced much of her compositional work today.

When it comes to her own musical style, Haden describes herself as a “chameleon.”

“I do the best I can to make sense of myself and the music in front of me,” Haden said. “I love experimenting with different sounds in all genres of music because it’s cool to hear what the result is.”

This experimental quality of Haden’s music is what she believes complements Frisell so well. Both musicians enjoy layering their instrumental and vocal sounds.

Frisell’s long-time manager, Phyllis Oyama, calls their music “truly transcendent” and marvels at how they just keep getting better.

“It’s like a magic alchemy,” said Oyama. “You know, they’re just, I don’t know, it’s kind of unexplainable.”

Frisell and Haden decided to begin working on an album together only a few days after they met and have collaborated on various projects ever since.

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The first album that they made together, “Petra Haden and Bill Frisell,” was devoted to their duo’s sound. Released in 2005 and produced by the founder of Songtone production company Lee Townsend, the album explores rearrangements of classic songs by musicians including Stevie Wonder, the Foo Fighters, Coldplay, and more.

Townsend met Frisell in the 1980s and has been producing his music ever since. He was a co-producer of “Floratone,” which is what Townsend calls a “musical collective” of musicians creating studio-driven collaborative projects. Production required intensive compositional editing and sound layering, like Frisell’s own recording style.

Townsend met Haden when she began working with Frisell.

“Petra has such a kind of intuitive and instinctive understanding of harmony, that it kind of gives both of them a lot of flexibility to explore,” Townsend said. “There’s just a purity to Petra’s vocals, her voice and vocal tone, that really blends well with Bill’s guitar tone. So, it’s also kind of like a sonic, you know, very complementary sonic situation.”

Frisell and Haden’s performance at the Englert Theatre is part of a musical tour. The duo will also perform in Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York City, where Frisell was in conversation with Philip Watson at Rizzoli Bookstore on Dec. 7.

Frisell performed in Iowa City in the early 1980s, and more recently for several Iowa City Jazz Festivals, but this is his debut performing alongside Haden in Iowa City. Haden feels great about their upcoming performance and hopes the audience will enjoy it.

“I just hope they’ll have a good time,” said Haden. “Like my father would say, ‘I want to take people away from the ugliness and sadness around us every day and bring beautiful, deep music to as many people as I can.’”