Bill Frisell – guitar
Eyvind Kang – viola
Rudy Royston – drums
Produced by Lee Townsend
Recording and Mixing Engineer: Adam Muñoz Mastering Engineer: Greg Calbi Production Assistance: Adam Blomberg
Recorded and Mixed at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, Ca March/April 2010 Mastered at Sterling Sound, New York
Photography: Michael Wilson
Art Design: Gwen Terpstra, Terpstra Design
Savoy Label Group
All compositions by Bill Frisell, Friz-Tone Music/BMI except:
Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster
It¹s Nobody¹s Fault but Mine by Blind Willie Johnson Benny’s Bugle by Benny Goodman Tea For Two by Vincent Youmans Goin¹ Out Of My Head by Teddy Randazzo – Bobby Weinstein Keep On The Sunny Side by A.P. Carter
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 Jazz
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 often.
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 other’s parts.
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