By Stephanie Wilks
October 16, 2012
Bill Frisell with the 858 Quartet: violinists Eyvind Kang & Jenny Scheinman, cellist Hank Roberts
Bill Frisell is a guitarist and composer with a career spanning more than 35 years and over 250 songs, including 40 albums of his own. His extensive studies in American musical history are evident in his melodies, which fuse just about every inherent American musical genre imaginable (think folk, jazz, rock, polka, country, and the blues).
During Frisell’s concert at The Emery Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 10, Cincinnatians were transported to early 20th century Arkansas. The concert featured music from his newest album, combined with digital projections of black & white photographs by artist Disfarmer—the inspiration for the music.
Disfarmer was a curious man – a portrait photographer, yet crass, unlikable, and without friends. His profound disdain for the farming community in which he was raised led him to change his name at a young age from Mike Meyers to Mike “Disfarmer.” But despite a ruthless absence of human relationships in his life, the hundreds of photographs Disfarmer left behind are both beautiful and moving. It’s as if his lens was able to penetrate through appearances to capture the human soul.
Frisell has been described as being “at the very epicenter of modern American music”(BBC), and his work ethic is comparable to that of Muhammed Ali’s. “I run on the road long before I dance under the lights,” said the legendary fighter.
Dave Sanders and Thom Mariner
Before composing “Disfarmer,” Frisell journeyed from his home in Seattle, WA to Disfarmer’s former hometown of Heber Springs, AR. He spent time with the people, historical records, and the land to better understand the life of the mysterious, cold, and impoverished early 20th century photographer who never lived to see public appreciation of his work. Although preparation is nothing new to Frisell, it’s this investigation and groundwork that connects him to Disfarmer and what makes the music particularly poignant.
In the songs performed, as well as in Disfarmer’s photos displayed during the concert at The Emery Theatre, you got a sense of eerie intimacy, like the whistling of a slow wind across the country prairie and then the sudden slamming of a screen door. You can imagine the way Disfarmer was said to walk through town in a long black coat in “The Wizard.” In my personal favorite, “Focus,” you might recognize tunes reminiscent of a John Wayne flick beneath a repetitive arpeggio baseline.
Until recently, the Emery Theatre had been shut down. Thanks to the steadfast efforts of Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon, however, who created an NPO called “The Requiem Project,” this historic landmark is being revived and restored as a crown jewel for the city. The performance hall was built in 1911, a year when Disfarmer was also at his prime. Talk about an apropos venue for this FotoFocus show.
FYI: Be on the lookout in the coming days for more highlights from FotoFocus including Tyler Shields, Andy Warhol, and Pyramid Hill.to top ↑