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Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009

Bill Frisell

Disfarmer (Nonesuch)

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­Among his colleagues in the big four of modern jazz guitar-John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern-Bill Frisell's place is most distinctive by a few identifying characteristics: a refusal to get down in any kind of groove, a penchant for old-timey Americana, and a sound largely comprised of finger-picked country twang. Namely, he's the most hillbilly of the bunch. Which is the vibe the WexnerCenter for the Arts was hoping to bottle when they commissioned Frisell to score a retrospective of Mike "Disfarmer" Meyer, a Depression-era photographer from Arkansas.

Frisell certainly delivers, but largely in his ambient, cerebral jazzman sort of way. A whopping 26 tracks make up the album, few of which are more than skeletal, country-jazz song palettes. Each is hardly unique from the one before, with the exception of "That's Alright, Mama" and Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues," whose familiarity lends accessibility and fun in an otherwise sparse, haunting soundscape. Additionally, the band, complete with violin and warbly steel guitar, rarely gets out of second gear; and the virtuoso himself displays little virtuosity.

Perhaps the nature of the project shaped such deliberate non-centeredness, but when the plethoric 31 tracks that comprised his last studio effort are considered, it's only natural to feel that songwriting A.D.D. has become part of Frisell's current package. Floating and ethereal at times, overall it feels like a neat backdrop for the college-educated, iPod-toting sect perusing the Depression in well-lit, air-conditioned, state-of-the-art galleries.

-Todd Lazarski