During the run-up to the January opening of his organization's $64 million concert hall, Randall Kline -- founder of SFJazz -- talked about making it a destination for all sorts of arts lovers. Not just for jazz fans, but for fans of the visual arts and literature, plus good food (the venue has its own trendy restaurant) and digital innovation.

Well, an early experiment is happening through the weekend at the SFJazz Center, where guitarist/composer Bill Frisell has prepared a pair of multimedia programs. The first took place Thursday, when Frisell conducted a seven-piece band in his new score to Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish," in which the Beat poet spelled out the details of his mother Naomi's madness and death. Thursday, the poem (which dates to 1959) was narrated by Hal Willner (the event's producer) and Chloe Webb (its director), with visual images projected above the stage, including many by cartoonist Ralph Steadman, whose freaky caricatures (resembling bug-eyed devils) spelled death.

A worthy experiment? Definitely. Yet this "Kaddish" (the title refers to the Jewish mourner's prayer) lacked legs.

For 75 minutes, there was the raw power and honesty of Ginsberg's extended verse, with frustratingly little response from Frisell. Perhaps he was trying to lurk inside the space around the words, but it didn't work. So minimal was the score that it registered as background music, a retreat from the poem. It relied on a string of tricks: Philip Glass-like arpeggios, slow and lean, but lacking Glass' obsessive mania (which would have added something here) occasional chorales, leading nowhere; a three-note cello riff introducing shuffle-boil jazz interludes at mid-tempo. These, too, had no destination until, finally, all too late, in the performance's closing minutes.

Ginsberg's poem celebrates Naomi's life, even as it chronicles her dissolution: her institutionalization, electro-shock, loss of control of bodily functions. Time and again, the music failed to amplify or otherwise illuminate the text. Frisell, who is one of SFJazz's resident artistic directors this season, is a master of understatement, but this effort was more like a nonstatement.

The band included some terrific improvisers, all longtime Frisell collaborators: violinist Jenny Scheinman, cellist Hank Roberts, clarinetist Doug Wieselman, trumpeter Ron Miles, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, pianist/singer Robin Holcomb, drummer/vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen. Aside from Holcomb, whose occasional vocals breathed some emotion into the performance, they didn't do much. Letting them loose to improvise in response to the text might have been a better strategy.

The poem's recitation was a mixed bag. On the one hand, there was Webb, vividly depicting Ginsberg's mother. Wrapped in a shawl -- resembling a prayer shawl -- she captured Naomi's voice, channeled her emotions as a child, proud mother and madwoman, always zesty and somehow life-affirming. On the other hand, there was Willner -- a top music producer, with a flair for matching disparate talents -- whose mumbling performance was stiffly amateurish.

Webb created the overhead stream of projections, zooming from life images (blossoms, Ginsberg family snapshots) to death images, mainly Steadman's Expressionist figures with the bulging eyes, like freaky windows of the soul. (More images by Steadman -- famous from Rolling Stone magazine's San Francisco days -- will accompany Frisell's weekend shows, setting music to journalist Hunter S. Thompson's "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." Keep your fingers crossed.)

Ginsberg's poem was twice redeemed, musically. At the outset, before the musicians walked onstage, the audience listened to a mash-up of two recordings: Ray Charles singing "I Believe to My Soul" ("One of these days, and it won't be long, you're gonna look for me and I'll be gone") and a Jewish cantor chanting an ornate portion of Hebrew liturgy. The blue-note intersections were thrilling: great idea, but, again, no real follow-up.

The ending's tribal abandon reminded this listener of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." The cello riff finally ignited a full-boiled response from the band, with a madhouse bass-clarinet improvisation from Wieselman, leading into passionate call-and-response by Willner and Webb. And overhead: images of a black crow, flying into the void, like Naomi, wild and free. "Ca-caw!" shouted Webb. "Ca-caw! Ca-caw! Ca-caw!"

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him at www.Twitter.com/richardscheinin

Bill Frisell

In a multimedia adaptation of "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," with text by Hunter S. Thompson and images by Ralph Steadman, presented by SFJazz

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St.
Tickets: $35-$80, 866-920-5299, www.sfjazz.org