When listening to Bill Frisell play, it’s easy to forget
you’re hearing an electric guitar. Through touch, tone and
voicings that are free of the usual six-string tropes, his instrument
can sound, variously, like a pedal steel, a toy piano, a string
quartet, a church bell, a plane in the distance, even a human voice.
This remarkable gift continues to serve
him well on his 29th solo album, whether he’s covering Stephen Foster (“Beautiful
Dreamer”), Benny Goodman (“Benny’s Bugle”)
or Teddy Randazzo (“Goin’ Out of My Head”), or
playing his own spooky, cinematic tunes like “Baby Cry,” “Winslow
Homer” and “Better Than a Machine.” The striking
originality of the arrangements Frisell creates with viola player
Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston can even transform ancient
Tin Pan Alley fare like “Tea for Two” or “Keep
on the Sunny Side” into something startlingly fresh and modern.
Recorded at Fantasy Studios and produced
by longtime collaborator Lee Townsend, this record doesn’t really sound much like
jazz as much as compelling, emotionally resonant, genre-free music.
Sure, it swings in places, and there’s some fiery improvisation.
But after decades of trodding such a brave and singular path, maybe
Frisell deserves his own genre. How about “friz”? -
Bill DeMain, JazzTimes (Oct. 2010)
"Magical!" .... Mike Hobart, Financial Times (London)
Unlike any other
project from Frisell or anyone else, the Beautiful Dreamers project
redefines sonic beauty as much as it redefines the jazz trio. Not
one to hold on to labels, Bill Frisell adds yet another idiom to
his unique musical lexicon. - Andrea Canter, JAZZ POLICE
In the most understated way possible, Beautiful
Dreamers' special intimacy, quiet joy and constant sound of surprise
represent a shift in Frisell's music. Moving away from project
specificity and, instead, towards a consolidation of the guitarist's
multifaceted interests, it's a beautiful way, indeed, to kick-start
this relationship with a new label. - By John Kelman - All About
This Week's Best Albums: August 31, 2010
"There's little ground that guitarist Bill Frisell hasn't
covered in his 30-year career, which has spanned country, folk,
jazz, blues, film scores, and experimental music. And though each
subsequent release is exciting and often unexpected, this new ensemble ‹ featuring
violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston ‹ gives Frisell
the chance to spread his reach ever that much further. Beautiful
Dreamers presents the three splicing
together Frisell's melodic phrasing, Kang's amorphous talents,
and Royston's soft jazz drumming for a unique batch of originals
and reinterpretations of classics, including takes on tunes by
Benny Goodman, Stephen Foster, and Blind Willie Johnson."
- by Scott Morrow , Alarm Press
On Beautiful Dreamers, Frisell uses works by Stephen
Foster, Blind Willie Johnson, The Carter Family and Benny Goodman,
along with Burt Bacharach-style pop, as springboards for wiry,
bluesy, and distinctly rocking works of his own. The two sets of
compositions co-exist on Beautiful Dreamers as musical
cousins. Their stylistically familial ties surface with every listen.
And Beautiful Dreamers is an album you will want to revisit
There also is the matter of the trio that Frisell uses here, an
industrious, bass-less ensemble that teams the guitarist with violist
Eyvind Kang (a veteran of Frisell's 858 Quartet, Floratone and
the extraordinary brass and strings group responsible for the 1996
Nonesuch triumph, Quartet), and drummer Rudy Royston (a comparative
newcomer to the guitarist's recordings, although he has worked
with Frisell protégés Jenny Scheinmenn and Ron Miles).
Like so many Frisell groups, this trio unfolds its music with a
sound that is light yet lush, in a manner that is purposeful but
unhurried. The popular Foster-penned title tune floats about as
an atmospheric ballet, as much on the wings of Kang's string work
as the ambience that Frisell creates on guitar. That leads to an
animated Frisell original called “A Worthy Endeavor” that
picks up on the sort of playful, otherworldly tone of its predecessor,
making the piece sound like a backdrop to a sort of abstract Americana
cartoon. Frisell concerns himself, as usual, with textures more
than outlandish (or unneeded) soloing.
And so it goes for the duration of Beautiful Dreamers.
Royston summons a tasty swing-like rumble as Frisell and Kang dissect
the groove of Goodman's “Benny's Bugle”, but not until
the trio first navigates the airy, nocturnal side roads of the
original “Baby Cry”. Similarly, the '60s pop nugget “Goin'
Out of My Head” balances a plucky, pizzicato warmth and with
nicely fractured rhythmic turns before Frisell's “Worried
Man” clouds the skies with a militaristic beat and a solemn,
thicker blues underpinning.
But the highlight sits in the middle of the album with a Frisell
original dedicated to the late songsmith Vic Chesnutt, titled “Better
Than a Machine”. In this dreamscape recording of Americana
accents, the tune beams as a blast of bright, poppish sunshine.
It's indeed the moment when the already attractive Beautiful
Dreamers becomes even lovelier. By Walter Tunis, www.kentucky.com
Outside at night, three backlit figures stand across the way.
All we can see in the picture are their legs, but their shadows
stretch long across the concrete. The light source shines also
on the wheels of a bicycle, with a smaller shadow of a rider revealed
just behind the three pairs of legs. This back cover photo is a
lovely metaphor for the music contained on Beautiful Dreamers -
the lights come towards the music through the players, and it reveals
willowy, but elongated shadow of beauty.
Or perhaps you prefer the front cover, with
time lapse photography making us think we can see these musicians,
but they are blurred beyond easy recognition (though Frisell
himself held still long enough for those who have seen him in
person to interpret his face). There are familiar songs on this
album - Stephen Foster's "Beautiful
Dreamer" itself, or the jazz standard "Tea For Two" or
the Carter Family classic "Keep on the Sunny Side"
- but they are blurred a bit. Not really so much that you can't
recognize them, but enough to make them seem somewhat dreamlike,
something just out of focus from the familiar.
Bill Frisell has been putting his guitar
into sinuous dreamscapes for decades, and he has one of the most
instantly recognizable guitar sounds in any form of music. It
doesn't matter if he's playing with distortion, delay, volume
pedals, or any number of fluctuations to his basic approach.
Frisell's touch on the strings cannot be duplicated, and its sound
cannot be lost. Interestingly, there is almost no use of effects
on this album; for once, we get unadulterated Frisell, with just
a pure, slightly shimmering electric tone coming from his fingers
to the amp.
He's joined here by Eyvind Kang, who has traversed the classical,
avant-garde jazz, and even rock worlds in the past, on viola, and
by Rudy Royston on drums. The three musicians are synched up so
beautifully throughout this record that more than once, it's easy
to attribute a nice touch to one player when it turns out to be
another. Royston's drums are quietly demanding - he plays with
a light feel but a heavy swing, and frequently comes up with deftly
melodic parts to match the others. Frisell and Kang shift swiftly
between unison, counterpoint, and accompaniment.
The tunes - 10 by Frisell, six from assorted
outside realms - are beautiful and evocative. "Winslow Homer," presumably
a tribute to the 19th Century landscape painter, has a nicely off-kilter
Thelonious Monk feel to it. "Beautiful Dreamer" finds
Kang meandering around the familiar melody before Frisell coaxes
an unsentimental yet thoroughly lovely statement of the theme as
Kang and Royston insert cautious comments lest we believe in the
dream rather than reality. Blind Willie Johnson's "It's Nobody's
Fault But Mine"
gives Kang a chance to prove the blues can be felt through a viola,
and Benny Goodman's "Benny's Bugle" shows this three-piece
line-up could generate some jitterbugging energy.
"Better Than a Machine (for Vic Chesnutt)" is
a wonderful tribute to the late singer/songwriter whom Frisell
had played with in the past. It's the closest thing to a rock
song on this unusual jazz record, and it's easy to imagine Chesnutt
coming up with some intriguing words to match this melody."All
We Can Do," another Frisell original, is probably
the album's other highlight, a dark and intensely quiet piece which
showcases the way these three players move around and within each
Frisell works with a wide variety of regular
and occasional line-ups of musicians. This particular trio has
been together off and on for a couple years, and their familiarity
with and close connection to each other is a delight to hear
this first recording as a unit. Really,
if you buy one guitar/viola/drums trio record this year, you should
make it this one. - STEVE PICK, Blurt.com