Blue Dreams

COMPOSERS: Bill Frisell
LABELS: Nonesuch
PERFORMER: Bill Frisell (el-g, ac-g, loops), Greg Leisz (steel g, mand), Ron Miles (t), Curtis Fowlkes (tb), Billy Drewes (as), David Piltch (b), Kenny Wollesen (d, perc)
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79615-2

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Utterly distinctive and instantly identifiable, Bill Frisell’s work is nonetheless deeply rooted in one of the broadest stylistic categories available to a contemporary musician: American music from blues and country to cowboy ballads and Charles Ives.

Previous albums have seen the Baltimore-born guitarist tackle material by everyone from Muddy Waters, Madonna and Bob Dylan to John Philip Sousa, Stephen Foster and Aaron Copland; this one concentrates entirely on his own compositions, but they draw on all the above-mentioned styles and influences, and filter them through a jazz musician’s sensibility.

Soft bluesy or country-style chugs, showcasing Frisell’s paint-squeezed-from-a-tube guitar sound over gently crooning horns, are interspersed with woozy dustbowl ballads ending in delicately chattering ensembles; floating, wispily curling themes jostle with slow-building, haunting swirls of guitar, horns and saxophone.

For, like a number of post-Hendrix guitarists, Frisell is as interested by the extraordinary array of sounds and textures available from the electric instrument as he is in the more conventional jazz virtues of swing and improvisational facility.

With Greg Leisz’s array of steel guitars helping his leader provide such textural variety, however, the jazzy urgency and agility of Billy Drewes’s alto and the surefooted poise of the horns of Ron Miles and Curtis Fowlkes round out the group sound perfectly, the whole unobtrusively but firmly propelled by Piltch and Wollesen.

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Whether he’s in power-trio electric mode or acoustic country mode, though, Frisell is indubitably the quintessential 21st-century musician: restlessly eclectic, passionately open-eared, effortlessly virtuosic. Chris Parker