Album review: Bill Frisell's 'Beautiful Dreamers'
At this point in Bill Frisell’s career, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Sure, there’s the occasional foray into his unhinged past with John Zorn’s Naked City and the string-heavy Richter 858 project, but for the most part Frisell has carved out a comfortable -– and, let’s be honest, quite lovely –- niche that finds his alternately stinging or soothing guitar tone stirring up a gorgeous and unique mix of rustic Americana and slow-boiling jazz.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. For his latest record, his first for Savoy Jazz, Frisell has assembled an unconventional trio with experimental-minded violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston, who has backed frequent Frisell collaborator Ron Miles. Frisell isn’t a stranger to string accompaniment in a small ensemble given his recent work with Jenny Schienman. But Kang is given ample room to put his distinct stamp on the proceedings, most notably with his gruff, sawing interplay with Frisell on a twilit reading of “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” Frisell’s taste for mining the classic songbook remains intact with lovely, understated takes on “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Tea for Two” and the ever-jaunty “Keep on the Sunny Side,” but these add up to a rather inescapable feeling that Frisell has been here before.
Originals such as the churning and surprisingly upbeat Vic Chesnutt dedication “Better Than a Machine” and the elastic “All We Can Do” certainly show there’s plenty for both longtime fans and newcomers to enjoy here. It’s just hard not to wish for more surprises.
-- Chris Barton
Two and a half stars