In some ways, Blues Dream is a bit of an odd title for this new release by guitar soundpainter Bill Frisell. Like several of his recent releases, the music is definitely dreamlike, with melodies riding atop underlying currents of sound. But the blues are here more in an atmosphere that permeates this album rather than in song form or the style of Frisell’s guitar playing.
This new album continues Frisell’s voyage that began with his other Nonesuch albums, specifically Ghost Town, Nashville, and Quartet. The music for Blues Dream was commissioned by Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, where it was first performed, on November 15, 1999.
Frisell’s electric and acoustic guitars are joined here by Greg Leisz, who plays everything from pedal steel to lapsteel and mandolin to resonator guitar. The two guitarists blend their strings with a horn trio of Ron Miles’ trumpet, Billy Drewes’ alto sax, and Curtis Fowlkes’ trombone. Bassist David Piltch and drummer Kenny Wollesen round out the band.
The album opens with the title song, which creates a melancholic blues from the sound of a National resonator and the moans of several horns; it evokes a mood like the electricity in the air before a thunderstorm hits.
Frisell moves between his earlier experiments with sonic sculptures to integrating and improvising off classic American folk melodies that brings to mind the classical music of Aaron Copland. From the fog created by the guitars of Frisell and Leisz come the haunting nostalgia of sweet tunes you swear you’ve heard many times before, mixing minor-key moodiness with a rich pastoral sound. It’s a stunning combination.
If you love guitar – or good music in general – you owe it to yourself to check out Blues Dream.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.