Beautiful Dreamers is Bill Frisell's debut for Savoy Jazz. He left longstanding label Nonesuch in 2009, claiming he needed to release more than one record per year in order to to document his various bands, film score commitments, and commissions. This set features the guitarist in the company of violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston on a program of ten originals and six covers. While this trio is well known for using various effects in concert to expand its sonic palette, and jamming on various tunes for long periods of time, here the musicians are virtually a mirror image of that incarnation, playing with restraint, brevity, and melodic sensitivity. Frisell's originals range between speculative, atmospherically mysterious numbers such as "Love Sick" and more rhythmically pronounced exercises that engage in contrapuntal play between the guitarist and Kang, as on "Winslow Homer," which also flirts with bluegrass while Royston lays down breaks inside hip-hop drums. "Better Than a Machine" is dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt, and employs two of his themes in a perky, rockist tribute with some nice dissonance from Kang and power chords from Frisell. But they also underscore the covers, which are typical of Frisell; they reflect his wide interest in American music and his sense of humor. There's a parlor-room reading of Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer," an elegant version of "Goin' Out of My Head" that features killer pizzicato playing from Kang (and refers more to the original hit version by Little Anthony & the Imperials than the version by Sergio Mendes), the forlorn, wary blues of Blind Willie Johnson's "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine" stretched to the breaking point, and a swinging read of "Benny's Bugle." The blues also appears on "Worried Woman," with a direct quote from John Lennon's "I Found Out" and great rhythmic and harmonic interplay between all members of the trio. There's a sparkling cover of A.P. Carter's "Keep on the Sunny Side" that underscores Frisell's well-documented love of Americana and country music. At an hour in length, this can seem like an overly long exercise at times -- "Tea for Two" feels like an eternity and some of Frisell's originals are a tad amorphous, like cues left off film scores -- but these are minor complaints. Ultimately, Beautiful Dreamers is a wonderfully balanced trio exercise.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek