In 1997, Ry Cooder released his score to The End of Violence, the Wim Wenders film from the same year. Played by such all-stars as Flaco Jimenez, Jim Keltner, James “Blood” Ulmer and Jacky Terrasson, and featuring Jon Hassell’s existential trumpet solos and Cooder on guitar, the set did more than hang a wistful scrim behind Wenders’ dystopian tale of paranoia — it seems to have signaled a whole new genre.
On the evidence of Bill Frisell’s new cine-mental CD, Blues Dream, that genre gets defined as electric-guitar blues with acid-jazz overtones. But where Cooder uses Hassell’s electrified-Miles wail sparingly, Frisell comes at you with the whole brass choir. Where Cooder’s hazy distances and echoing layers create a warp and weave for some less-than-pleasant futureworld, Frisell lays back with plenty of space, less reverb and a lazy, meandering band of funkateers playing like there was no hurry and nowhere else to go — i.e. with a lovely down-home, here-and-now feeling.
Only twice in 18 tracks does Frisell’s vision lapse, with the short, snappy interludes “Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine” and “The Tractor.” They stick out from the rest of this strolling, lollygaging material like a pair of daisies growing in a wood pile, sprouting between deep, dark, soulful logs that get chopped, oh so slowly, and stacked on a crackling blues fire.
Is there something dreamy in all this, like the title says? Yes, ma’am. Parts one and two of “Like Dreamers Do” open the gate to a timeless garden of pleasure, calling up old bottleneck guitar styles, languid marching bands, summers when not a worry clouded the sky. Dreams can be scary, but these have a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging right next to the slow-motion-flowing river.
The pace picks up ever so slightly on “Outlaws,” which could be a sound track too, but for a Wim Wenders Western. Then on “What Do We Do?” the band sings in gospel unison, but peacefully, giving a body time and space to think gentle thoughts, before motivating itself over yonder with a little testifyin’.
Frisell’s playing throughout this suite of dreams is full of feeling as a form of intelligence. His sidemen — Greg Leisz, pedal steel and mandolin; Ron Miles, trumpet; Billy Drews, alto sax; David Piltch, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums and Curtis Fowlkes, trombone — do him proud. Sweet dreams are made of this.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected].