Renowned guitarist Bill Frisell's Blue Note Records debut Harmony is a pleasant album. This does not imply lack of innovation, the saccharine sound or the absence of bite and sorrow. These hues of bite and sorrow actually dominate the fourteen selections, which in patented Frisell manner run the gamut from traditional Americana to Elvis Costello to classic jazz. The album's appeal comes from its utter listenability and sumptuous delivery. It also proffers an innovative, drum-less configuration of strings, lead, and backing vocals. This includes Hank Roberts on cello, Luke Bergman on acoustic guitar, baritone guitar and bass, as well as Petra Haden on lead vocals.
The album's overall tonal quality is epitomized by one of the recording's more prominent pieces "Deep Dead Blue." Constructed around poetic lyrics by Costello, the song descends into delicious, blues-tinged rumination, delineated by Frisell's notes which hang like honeyed drops of melancholy, melting with rather than merely accompanying his bandmates' vocals and instrumental contributions.
Particularly poignant here and throughout is the vocal style of Petra Hadendaughter of the late bass legend Charlie Haden whose elongated, minimalist sound meshes fluidly with Frisell's highly attenuated approach which does not so much fill space with sound as utilize notes to shape space into a web that captures listeners with its deceptive simplicity and originality.
Another illustrative piece is the haunting rendition of the late 1800s American folksong "Hard Times," which was first recorded in 1905 and serves as a window into Frisell's progressivist angle of social consciousness. Other notable selections include Charlie Haden's "There is a Dream"; the Billy Strayhorn classic "Lush Life;" and a gorgeous, truncated version of "Where Have All the Flower's Gone," that once again demonstrates Haden and Frisell's ability to render even extremely well-recognized tunes to a potent distillate.
An estimable Blue Note Records debut from a master musician that expands into new territory, Harmony is a delight.
Track Listing: Everywhere; God’s Wing’d Horse; Fifty Years; Hard Times; Deep Dead Blue; There in a Dream; Lonesome; On the Street Where You Live; How Many Miles?; Lush Life; Honest Man; Red River Valley; Curiosity; Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Personnel: Bill Frisell: guitar; Petra Haden: voice; Hank Roberts: cello, voice; Luke Bergman: baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, voice.
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