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Nonesuch Records Releases Bill Frisell's "Disfarmer"


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Set inspired by life of Arkansas portrait photographer Mike Disfarmer

“Frisell remains the only six-string poet of his generation." --New Yorker

Nonesuch Records releases Grammy Award–winning guitarist, composer, and bandleader Bill Frisell’s new album, Disfarmer, on July 21, 2009. The original compositions on the album were inspired by the life and works of an unusual Arkansas photographer named Michael Disfarmer. Accompanying Frisell on the album are longtime collaborators, Jenny Scheinman (violin), Greg Leisz (steel guitar, mandolin), and Viktor Krauss (bass).

Born Michael Meyers to immigrant German parents, Disfarmer captured the lives and emotions of the people of rural America between 1939 and 1945, from his studio in the small mountain town of Heber Springs, Arkansas. Contemptuous of the farmers who were the principal subjects of his work, the photographer changed his last name to Disfarmer after learning that Meyers, in modern German, meant dairy farmer.

The Los Angeles Times said of a recent performance of the Disfarmer music: “Typical of Frisell, much of the music was rooted in traditional country, with one passage resembling a raucous barn dance... An eccentric, reclusive man, Disfarmer became an outsider art figure revered for his stark Depression-era portraits of farmers... The band’s powerful music could transcend a thousand pictures.”

Chuck Helm, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio, introduced Frisell to Disfarmer’s work on the hunch that the guitarist might be inspired by it. “Bill Frisell is a uniquely American artist with a distinctive and singular musical voice, like that of Thelonious Monk or Aaron Copland,” Helm explains. “In his probing yet atmospheric evocations of American vistas, I could hear parallels to the emotional truths of Disfarmer’s compelling photographs.”

Frisell adds, “I try to picture what went on in Disfarmer’s mind. How did he really feel about the people in this town? What was he thinking? What did he see? We’ll never know, but as I write the music, I’d like to imagine it coming from his point of view. The sound of him looking through the lens.”

Over a career that spans more than 30 years and 100-plus recordings, Bill Frisell has been widely praised by critics. The Washington Post calls him “not only one of the most inventive jazz guitarists of his generation, but also one of the most versatile and prolific,” and the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, “like Miles Davis and few others, his signature is built from pure sound and inflection; an anti-technique that is instantly identifiable.”

Frisell’s other Nonesuch albums include 2008’s two-disc large-band set History, Mystery, the solo album Ghost Town, a trio album with jazz legends Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, and a collection of traditional American songs and original compositions these songs inspired entitled The Willies. Unspeakable, produced by Hal Willner, won a Grammy in 2005. DownBeat has cited Frisell’s catalogue as “the best recorded output of the decade."

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