In the kingdom of Ken Burns' Jazz, the traditionalist rules. But out along the fringes of this fiefdom, the individualists toil along, creating improvised music from commitment to the art form rather than out of nostalgia for its past. Two such players are guitarists Bill Frisell and Jean-Paul Bourelly. And though they can't compete with Duke Ellington's and Louis Armstrong's sales in the aftermath of the jazz revival, their recordings are evidence that the genre is alive and continuing to evolve.
Of Haitian-American descent, Bourelly was born and raised in Chicago, where he fell under the influence of both European classical music and the electric blues. Though often compared to Jimi Hendrix for his shattering guitar work, Bourelly goes for a more retro feel on Boom Bop, which features two of the avant-garde's most interesting improvisers, tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and alto player Henry Threadgill. The addition of Big Royal Talamacus on the boom bass, Abdourhmane Diop on drums and vocals, as well as several percussion and indigenous instrument players gives "Three Chambers of Diop," "Gumbe" and "Kinetic Threadness" a loose, almost African feel. But the group never loses the lyricism of the tunes, and "Tara" is a downright romantic number.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Frisell's music has often explored country and folk idioms; Blues Dream is as lonesome and spare as a spaghetti western. But the musical dialogue between Frisell, pedal and lap steel player Greg Leisz (who has played with k.d. lang, Beck, Joni Mitchell and others), jazz trumpeter Ron Miles, drummer Kenny Wollesen, sax player Billy Drewes, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (the Jazz Passengers) and bassist David Piltch is as finely rendered as an art film. On "Ron Carter" they create an almost big band sound out of a funereal rhythm, while "Things Will Never Be the Same" is as lush and symphonic as an epic film score. The compositions on Blues Dream were commissioned by Minneapolis' Walker Art Center, giving Frisell the means to use this rather large ensemble to bring his compositions to life. What they create together is stunningly modern without ever referencing what we recognize as contemporary pop.