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Blues Dream

4.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 20, 2011
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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.

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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

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 20, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B000056K1Y
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,580 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
I'm not exactly sure why Bill Frisell is one of the best jazz musicians playing right now, but he is. He seems to understand that jazz isn't significant simply because it inherits the sounds that Duke, Miles, Satchmo or Coltrane produced. Their work was very important, of course, but jazz is also about working with popular music, the current zeitgeist, and letting good musicians take it someplace special. Unlike many jazz musicians, Frisell's music doesn't sound like it comes out of the popular music of the 40s and 50s; it sounds like it comes out of the popular music of the last twenty or thirty years. There is a heavy blues influence, of course, but there is also a country music influence, and a Hendrix influence, and maybe even something from the outside rock music made by musicians like Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew. The end result is a series of sonic dreams that sound like they belong to this century and to living generations. They are sometimes funky, often beautiful, occasionally even a bit corny, but almost always satisfying.
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Format: Audio CD
Bill Frisell's consistent recorded output over the last two decades has established his reputation as one of the most atmospheric of guitarists. His more recent infatuation with musical Americana has come to full fruition on "Blues Dream", which deftly blurs whatever distinctions occur between what are conveniently termed Blues, Jazz and Country. The result is an extremely listenable album that ignores any notion of genre autonomy, rather seeking to establish a mood that incorporates all the unique musical aspects that American contemporary life has embraced over the last century. So Bluegrass rhythms sit alongside avant-garde horn motifs, which bounce off abrasive slide-guitar excursions - a curious hybrid held together by it's geographical roots.
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Format: Audio CD
I was a bit disappointed after my first listen of this cd, as none of the tunes really grabbed me as many of Bill's (can I call him by his first name?) compositions have in the past (Egg Radio, Blues for LA, Rag, and Tales from the Far Side, inparticular). Upon listening over and over again, however, I've come to realize that this is one of those albums that grows and grows and grows on each subsequent listen, and now I rank "Blues Dream" as one of Bill's best.
As many reviewers in the past have pointed out, Frisell is one of those composers/arrangers/musicians who can blend styles with the deftest of hands, and "Blues Dream" serves as a terrific showcase for Frisell's method (now that I'm playing the role of critic, by the way, I'm referring to Bill Frisell as Frisell, as I'm attempting to portray myself as objective, which I'm not). Those unfamiliar with Frisell's work will find a rich soup of styles, as the album boils with country and bluegrass, blues, rock, and occasionally, a lick or two of straight jazz (though not too much). Those familiar with Frisell will find Frisell continuing in the vein of his mid- to late-nineties albums, but perhaps tempered by a more sullen, low-key feel than he's expressed in the past, which may prompt the question, "Does Frisell play the blues on this album?" I'd say, "not really," as only a few tunes are actually in blues form; however, as the title suggests, there is a dreamlike feel that justifies the title. As objects and places and people in one's dreams are never quite right, neither is the blues ever really properly addressed on this album--which is OK, because the album is not named "Straight Steel Blues from a Straight Steel Man," (I think that was Kenny Wayne Shepherd's last recording).
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Format: Audio CD
"Blues Dream" released in 2001 on Nonesuch is one of Frisell's best efforts as a leader. The music, as always with Frisell, is very hard to categorize. It's essentially blues-jazz combined with folk, bluegrass, country, and a touch of avant-garde, because we all know Frisell favors a little bit more dissonance than other jazz guitarists. This is a great beginning album for people just starting to get into Frisell as is his album "Good Dog, Happy Man."

The musicianship, as with any Frisell album, is top-notch. Bill has a talent for finding just the right musicians to play his music. I was particuarly impressed with drummer Kenny wollesen, pedal-steel guitarist Greg Leisz, and trumpeter Ron Miles. All the other musicians are fantastic, but it seems these musicians really took this session to another level.

The audio quality of this recording is also very well done. This album is again produced by Lee Townsend, whom I feel is just as important as any of the musicians. You can really hear his mark on this album's production. Townsend has been producing Frisell's albums for many, many years now and always does a fine job.

If you enjoyed his albums "Good Dog, Happy Man" and "The Intercontinentals" then this would be a welcome addition to your collection. Very highly recommended.
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Format: Audio CD
Guitarist Frisell's previous couple of recordings found him in something of a mellow, acoustic-oriented vein. Although these were nice recordings, it is nice to be able to report that Frisell has cranked up the energy a couple of notches on Blues Dream, which features Frisell on both acoustic and electric guitars. The rest of the group comprises Greg Leisz on various steel guitars and mandolin, Ron Miles on trumpet, Billy Drewes on alto sax, David Piltch on drums, Kenny Wollesen on drums, and Curtis Fowlkes on trombone.

The recording opens with what sounds like a blues holler played on the trumpet, and the blues dream begins. Perhaps because he has a trumpeter named Miles in this band, Frisell names two of the cuts after musicians, "Ron Carter" (with some big fat bass notes) and "Greg Leisz" (moody and atmospheric, sounding something like soundtrack music). Overall, this is rich stuff, with plenty of texture. The players weave in and out of various cuts; it is especially interesting to hear the occasional interplay between trumpet and guitar.

Frisell's music is hard to pigeonhole. It sounds distinctly American, but it is at once rural and cosmopolitan. His is a unique musical vision; perhaps he will one day be recognized as a seminal force in American music. This is an amazingly satisfying recording that you will want to play over and over again and recommend to your friends, be they jazz buffs, country fanatics, folkies, blues enthusiasts, or whatever.
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