It was on Frisell's critically-lauded Quartet
album of 1995 - with its cover art by Thomas Hart Benton - that his compositional style took its most palpable turn toward a personalized brand of Americana. Foregoing a rhythm section and adding horns, he fashioned an ensemble sound that ultimately owed more to the chamber music tradition than the jazz group. On his subsequent projects, beginning with the milestone Nashville
, Frisell placed his compositions in the hands of seasoned alt-country players who interpreted the roots-inflected aspect of his writing with richly-hued virtuosity. These varying collaborations - heavily seasoned with country and rock - have resulted in the best-selling albums of the guitarist's career, and several seasons of much-praised roadwork.
On this 2011 effort, Frisell combines personnel from both these phases of his career, and intertwines them in an outstanding set of new compositions that add yet another dimension to an aristry in its prime.
For those who have been wondering where Mr. Bill's musical wanderings would lead him in the wake of his first solo CD, Ghost Town
, Blues Dream
provides the ambitious answer. Nearly all Frisell's fascinations are here: the pastoralism of Have a Little Faith
, a Nashville
tinge, and the cinematic sounds of Quartet
. There's also the electronic loop atmospheres of his ECM and early Elektra years and the alternating Ellingtonian
and Salvation Army horns of his quintet period. All of this melded into 18 new compositions commissioned by the Walker Arts Center.
A textural richness comes courtesy of Greg Leisz's various guitars backing Frisell's own guitar and a stunning integration of three horns: Curtis Fowlkes's trombone, Ron Miles's trumpet, and Billy Drewes's saxophones. As you listen to this string of broad-shouldered pieces, tributes to greats like Ron Carter, and strangely blues-inflected soundscapes, it's apparent that the solos of Ghost Town can operate as a sort of sketch or "cartoon" for this, the full painting; or a short that is then expanded into a feature. Frisell's career is taking on the aspect of a well-crafted movie or novel that explores different story lines before bringing them together for the finale (and this might be the prelude to the finale). --Michael Ross