Produced by Lee Townsend
All compositions by Bill Frisell (Friz-Tone Music/BMI) except:
"Like David Lynch, postjazz guitarist Bill Frisell has a knack for insinuating an odd haze around the most wholesome aspects of Americana. Disfarmer, named after the cranky Arkansas photographer who created gripping images of his neighbors, finds Frisell teamed with steel guitarist Greg Leisz, violinist Jenny Scheinman and bassist Viktor Krauss for a set of 26 evocative miniatures. Each one flits by like a half-remembered dream, yet paradoxically their sum amounts to one of Frisell's loveliest, most consistently affecting recent creations." - Steve Smith, Time Out, New York
"The music of omnivorous guitarist Bill Frisell reflects an eclectic
range of influences .... On "Disfarmer," he draws inspiration
from the Depression-era portraits of little-known Arkansas photographer
Michael Disfarmer. The result is a provocative soundscape that features
a mixture of acoustic and
"Exquisite." - Independent on Sunday
"Frisell's filmic themes summon up the ghosts of a lost America. The results are gently beautiful." The Times
"The tunes prove so hauntingly evocative that they conjure the spirits of long-vanished people and places without the need for visual accompaniment." - Metro
"The hymns and hoedowns of 'Disfarmer' are both affectionate and atmospheric." - Daily Telegraph
"You practically feel the Arkansas soil slipping through your
fingers."- The Sun
NPR.org, July 13, 2009 -
This album is called Disfarmer, and it's by Bill Frisell. Frisell, you
But who, or what for that matter, is Disfarmer?
Mike Disfarmer was born Michael Meyers in 1884, the sixth of seven children in a family of German immigrant farmers in Arkansas. As he grew older, he came to reject both his family and its agrarian lifestyle. (A tornado, he once claimed, uprooted him from his birth parents and blew him into the Meyers household.) So he chose a new surname. Upon learning, somewhat incorrectly, that the German word "meyer" translated to "farmer" in English, he reasoned that he could only be called an anti-farmer, or Disfarmer.
In other words, Disfarmer was something of an eccentric, and a recluse
to boot. But he was also an artist: Disfarmer ran a portrait photography
studio in rural Heber Springs, Ark. ‹ the only such enterprise
for miles around.
Disfarmer died in 1959, but his photographs were eventually rediscovered, exhibited and anthologized. The candor of those images would be a natural counterpart to the post-Americana music of Bill Frisell ‹ so thought Chuck Helm, Director of the Performing Arts at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio. Sure enough, when Helm introduced Frisell to Disfarmer's oeuvre, the guitarist went on to create a touring multimedia work, scoring a slideshow of Disfarmer images.
The recording of that music, on Frisell's latest album Disfarmer, is what you can hear here in its entirety. It's filled with the sounds of a 21st-century string band: Greg Leisz's mandolin and pedal-steel atmospherics, Jenny Scheinman's sundry fiddle textures, Viktor Krauss' rich acoustic bass plucking. And then there's Frisell, the quiet tactician of the electric guitar, who engineers loops and subtle distortions with phrasing you never knew you were expecting.
There are evocative original themes and motifs here, surrounded by backgrounds
sounding distant echoes of country, bluegrass and old-time mountain music.
There's also a handful of carefully selected covers, among them Hank
Williams' lament "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)"
And it's all in service to the work of the enigmatic Arkansas photographer Mike Disfarmer.
"What was he thinking?" Frisell asks. "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."
The Houston Chronicle,
August 2, 2009 Sunday
Like Bill Frisell, I'd not heard of Mike Disfarmer even though I'd seen his work. Disfarmer, who died in 1959, was a weird genius of photography who took haunting, beautiful and mysterious portraits of the folks in his hometown of Heber Springs, Ark. Disfarmer's photos tipped the paper boat into the water for the always innovative guitarist Frisell, but Disfarmer is more than a soundtrack to a collection of photos. Frisell took a road trip from North Carolina to Arkansas to initiate the project. In both song selection and instrumentation the album reflects that movement. Among the 26 compositions are three interpretations of well-known songs - That's Alright, Mama, Lovesick Blues and I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You) - that suggest he stopped at some music landmarks along the way.
But the majority of these songs, with titles like Farmer, Little Girl and Little Boy, were inspired by Disfarmer and/or his subjects. Not only is there a continuity in Disfarmer's work (the crisp black-and-white detail, the stillness of the subjects) but there's also great range. Similarly Frisell's pieces flow together despite great variance in their tones. Some, like the opening Disfarmer's Theme, reflect the stoic darkness portrayed in the photos while others are more colorful. The lightness Jenny Scheinman's pizzicato violin plucking on Lost, Night are immersed in some more ominous tones produced by Frisell and steel guitarist Greg Leisz. Together, they give the song a gorgeous complexity.
I'm Not a Farmer has a sweeping country feel, tinged with resignation. It's quickly followed by the intimate, acoustically picked Small Town, a short composition that suggests a yearning to get outside its titular subject.
American roots music is not new terrain for Frisell. He's also no stranger to making music tied to a visual medium (he's done recordings to accompany Buster Keaton films). Disfarmer, though, is a particularly beautiful suite of music. Frisell's pacing is magnificent, and the album sweeps along with purpose like a gorgeous, spacious epic. It is full of sounds that suggest settings and characters, including the mysterious eccentric who inspired the recording.
NPR.org, August 16, 2009
Mike Disfarmer snapped portraits of anyone and everyone in the small town of Heber Springs, Ark. The photos spanned a period from the Great Depression through World War II. The black and white pictures ranged from the intent stares of a set of twins in tight curls and rumpled housecoats to a cocksure G.I. with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lip.
Guitarist Bill Frisell composed a series of musical vignettes based on Disfarmer's work for a new album appropriately called Disfarmer.
"At first I was attracted to the photos themselves, but then there's this whole story that starts to emerge of the man himself," Frisell says. "He was pretty much unknown while he was alive. And 20 years later, the photos are uncovered and [Disfarmer is] suddenly thought of as a genius."
Frisell drove to Heber Springs, Ark., where Disfarmer took the photographs. He wanted to meet people who lived there and happened to get lucky when he met Tom Olmstead, the town's funeral director. Olmstead not only had his picture taken by Disfarmer as a boy, but he and his father discovered Disfarmer's body after the photographer died. Olmstead provided Frisell with a wealth of stories.
Mike Disfarmer was born Mike Meyers. Frisell tells host Guy Raz that Disfarmer mistakenly thought that "Meyers" meant "farmer."
"He was trying to disassociate himself with his family and the community around there. So he decided to be Disfarmer," Frisell says. "You can tell he was a pretty contrary person."
Disfarmer was rude to the people he photographed and made them feel uncomfortable, but Frisell says that wasn't his aim. He was more interested in the photo itself.
"People weren't really posing. They never really knew when the photo was going to be taken," Frisell says. "In that way you get this really honest picture of those folks."
Sonic Boomers, September 11, 2009
The peppiest original on Bill Frisell’s work devoted to a mysterious
Arkansas photographer is titled “Natural Light.” It’s
a moment of controlled joy -- an artist finding the right split second
to capture life -- and as an audio interpreter of a visual art, Frisell
has everything in proper focus on Disfarmer.
CHRISTIAN SICENCE MONITOR
fROOTS, October 2009
There are only so many superlatives that one can hep on (loosely
speaking) jazz guitarist Bill Frisell's forays into the ghosts of Americana,
and this one - a set inspired by the images of wartime rural photographer
Mike Disfarmer - deservers the lot. The usual exemplary accompanying
crew of Greg Leisz, Jenny Scheinmann & Viktor Krauss are all in attendance.
'Sublime' will do for starters.