Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bill Frisell - Disfarmer (Nonesuch, 2009)

When guitarist and composer Bill Frisell saw the photographs of Mike Disfarmer, he knew he had found a kindred spirit. Disfarmer took stark and haunting photographs of people in rural Arkansas in the 1950's that have the realism and unnerving clarity of Walker Evans. Frisell, who is known for his Americana projects as much as his jazz work recognized a fellow eccentric and developed a project that he toured with, playing music inspired by the photographs while displaying them on a large screen while the band improvised live. Joining him on this studio version of the project are regular Frisell collaborators Greg Leisz on steel guitar and mandolin, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Viktor Krauss on bass. The music reflects the austere images quite well, from the haunting and eerie "Focus" which uses a repeating violin motif to create tension, to the playful cover of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's blues classic "That's Alright Mama." Frisell uses the photographs to create music that reflects a time and place that were unique to America. The music is often gentle and melancholy and the performances are quite short, like fragments of memory that manifest themselves in a dream. But to his credit, Bill Frisell never lets the music become reverential or overly sentimental, it remains vital and quirky from the opening track "Disfarmer Theme" which works in some of his trademark guitar loops and subtle electronics to excellent effect. This was a very enjoyable album, and one of Frisell's finest "Americana" projects. The music must be listened to with a patient ear, but the beauty of the music and the unadorned nature of Disfarmer's photography make for a compelling experience.

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