By Robert Ham | Published November 2019
While Bill Frisell’s name is prominent on the front cover, and much of the hype surrounding this release has to do with the fact that the 68-year-old musician is making his Blue Note debut, the celebrated guitarist takes on an almost supporting role for Harmony.
The emphasis is, instead, on the dynamics of the entire ensemble, a quartet named after this record that features longtime foils in vocalist Petra Haden and cellist Hank Roberts, but adds guitarist/bassist Luke Bergman. Frisell is omnipresent throughout with the warm, recognizable tone of his electric guitar shimmering through each track. But it never pulls focus from Haden’s crystalline vocals, maintaining a group consensus in the mode of the Carter Family or a great doo-wop troupe. Unlike those musical analogues, Harmony, the group, has no driving rhythm at its collective heart. The selection of original tunes and well-chosen folk and pop standards has the glow of a dying campfire. Nothing about these performances meanders, and no one here takes a solo. Every song unhurriedly ambles along, yet consistently reaches its destination—straight to the heart of the listener.
The material on Harmony and its overall tone feel reflective of our current era. Songs like Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” and “Deep Dead Blue” (originally a Frisell collaboration with Elvis Costello) are performed bowing beneath the weight of an unceasing bad news cycle. But throughout, there are notes of resilience, and so much beauty and concord as to not let the bone-deep exhaustion keep them—or us—down for long.
Harmony: Everywhere; God’s Wing’d Horse; Fifty Years; Hard Times; Deep Dead Blue; There In A Dream; Lonesome; On The Street Where You Live; How Many Miles?; Lush Life; Honest Man; Red River Valley; Curiosity; Where Have All The Flowers Gone? (46:45).
Personnel: Bill Frisell, guitar; Petra Haden, vocals; Hank Roberts, cello, vocals; Luke Bergman, baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, vocals.