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Bill Frisell: Harmony

Bill Frisell: Harmony
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Bill Frisell makes his Blue Note label debut as a leader not by emphasizing his guitar but rather by celebrating the human voice. He doesn’t do any of the singing; he puts longtime collaborator Petra Haden at the forefront, supported by the harmony vocals of cellist Hank Roberts and bassist/baritone guitarist/acoustic guitarist Luke Bergman. The program visits sweet spots in the leader’s repertoire of folk, country, and jazz and pop songbook standards (“Red River Valley,” “Hard Times,” “Lush Life,” “On the Street Where You Live”). There are songs he co-wrote with Elvis Costello (“Deep Dead Blue”) and Julie Miller (“God’s Wing’d Horse”) and a half-dozen genre-defying, wordless originals. The arrangements emphasize Frisell’s first love—melody, whether carried aloft by the angelic Haden, extrapolated in complex vocal and instrumental harmonies, or woven into the fabric by highlighted guitar, bass, or cello. Frisell’s bent, reverberant guitar tone is crucial, but so are his intuitive conceptual twists on what we took as familiar, especially the brooding reimagining of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” that closes the sumptuously produced chamber-jazz album, with Haden particularly haunting on the final line, “When will they ever learn?”

By Derk Richardson

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