Bill Frisell: Disfarmer

By: Ron Hart

Michael Disfarmer was an odd, curmudgeonly fellow from the WWII-era Midwest whose hobby was taking photographs of the various townsfolk from his hometown of Heber Springs, AK. And, like all great unsung-artists, little did Disfarmer know that his photographs would later become a treasured look into the vortex of Little America in the early-to-mid 20th century. Commissioned by Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts, jazz guitar great Bill Frisell got together with members of his longtime “country” ensemble to create 26 pieces of music to accompany Disfarmer's haunting photos for an audio/visual performance that took place at Wexner in March of 2007. Over two years later, the "soundtrack" to this unique project finally gets its official release courtesy of Nonesuch Records and should please any fan of such Frisell classics as 1997’s Nashville and 1999’s outstanding Good Dog, Happy Man. Nobody in modern music can blur the line between dark country and modal jazz like Frisell, and these 26 tracks manage to create a thoroughly fitting atmosphere to parallel the mood of Disfarmer’s photographs, several of which are featured prominently in the liner notes of this album. Largely inspired by Ozark Mountains fiddle music - Disfarmer himself was said to be a casual fiddle player - songs like "Lonely Man," "No One Gets In," an effective rendition of Arthur Crudup's "That’s Alright Mama" (made famous by Elvis Presley), and an ace pair of Hank Williams Sr. covers ("Lovesick Blues" and "I Can’t Help It If I'm Still In Love with You"), perfectly capture the era and the region in all of its sepia-toned beauty. Needless to say, seeing Frisell and his band perform these songs with Disfarmer’s photos projected in the background at Wexner that night in March, 2007 must have certainly been something to behold.

For more on Bill Frisell, check out JamBase's 2009 interview.

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[Published on: 10/15/09]

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