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May 2001

Bill Frisell
Blues Dream
Nonesuch Records

Blues Dream is another winsome album by Bill Frisell. On this Walker Arts Center-commissioned program, the composer-guitarist amalgamates elements and players from past projects to reiterate his bucolic synthesis of American root musics. The two-guitar, three-horn septet gives Frisell great flexibility in his trademark evocations of regional and ethnic dialects. Soloists like trumpeter Ron Miles and guitarist Greg Leisz continue to be fine foils. Certainly, Blues Dream will reinforce the media consensus that Frisell is an American original.

However, this is a strangely antiseptic album. The immaculate mix is partly responsible. While the engineering makes a marvel of the burnished horns and the beckoning twang of Leisz's steel and resonator guitars, it takes much of the bite out of Frisell's rawest sounds and suspends each instrument in its own isolated space, diffusing the band's punch. This reinforces the languor of much of the program. Many of Frisell's tunes are built on materials that hover somewhere between a riff and a theme-they tend to moan, gasp and wheeze more often than they shout and holler. Without exception, each of Frisell's 18 tunes contributes to the album's dreamlike synergy of sound and sensibility.

Yet Blues Dream is not a compelling album. Shadowy, but benign shapes-a shroudlike willow tree, a bunting-draped bandstand and a distant moonlit cabin-dominate this dream. It's a pat atmosphere only occasionally disrupted by a busy loop or a blast of distortion from Frisell, or a raucous horn statement (trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and alto saxophonist Billy Drewes round out the section).

While one can easily slip into Blues Dream, but nobody's going to bolt upright in a cold sweat after hearing it.

Originally published in May 2001
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