Bill Frisell | Disfarmer

Nonesuch (2009)
By JON GARELICK  |  July 15, 2009
3.5 3.5 Stars

Guitarist Frisell is one of jazz's great impressionists, and here he has the perfect subject for one of his audio mini-movies: the eccentric Arkansas portrait photographer Michael Disfarmer. Commissioned to write music based on Disfarmer's rustic 1939-45 photos of country folk, Frisell produced 26 pieces clocking in at 71:43 total, some no more than a minute or two.

He assembled one of his superb chamber-country bands to play it: violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Viktor Krauss, and Greg Leisz on steel guitars and mandolin. Melodies drift in over understated shuffle rhythms, lift off in fiddle arias, dissolve in loops and soft clouds of electric guitar harmony. There are country, rockabilly, and blues standards along the way — "That's Alright, Mama," "Lovesick Blues," "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You").

So Elvis and Hank keep us company in the otherwise lonesome surround. But original group-improv vignettes like "Shutter, Dream" (nearly epic at 4:24) are more to the point — its wound-up music box intro and click-and-whir musical conversation capture what Frisell says he wanted: the sound of Disfarmer looking through the lens.
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