3 Variations of a New Americana: Moby-Bill Frisell-Jon Hassell

Americana Pulls Up Its Roots

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Americana is a genre that usually refers to rustic music with roots in heartland sounds from folk, blues and country. Looking back on 2009, Americana emerged in some unusual locations on Echoes, including jazz, the avant-garde and electronica.  My top three albums for 2009 (see Top Ten List) are very different, but all are dipping into a new stream of 21st century Americana.

At the top, Moby‘s Wait for Me, an album of modern hymns, mournful laments and deep blues.  He mixes major key instrumentals that roil in undertows of texture with songs that ask the big questions in a personal way.  On his album Play, Moby came to renown sampling archival gospel and blues field recordings.  On Wait for Me, he’s absorbed that sound into his own, wholly original music.

Bill Frisell has been infusing his jazz improvisations with country twang  and modalities since his 1997 album, Nashville.  His 2009 album, Disfarmer was named for a rustic photographer in the early 20th century.   On Bill Frisell’s evocation of Disfarmer, you can feel the humidity and smell the Delta soil of Arkansas where the title character lived. Playing his Fender Telecaster and mixing pedal steel guitar with chamber strings, Bill Frisell made a masterpiece of Americana Chamber music.

Jon Hassell is the least obvious in his Americana influences, but the maverick trumpeter is tapping a vein of music that draws on swamp blues and jazz, transmuting it through 21st century electronic manipulation on his album, Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street, an album title that challenged many a critic’s word count.  In the 1980s Hassell created a genre called Fourth World Music but in the oughts, he’s mixing laptops, layered compositions and live sound processing.  It’s a cyber-merging of Hassell’s heroes like Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, along with Arvo Pärt, tuning in signals from space.

In 2009, Jon Hassell, Bill Frisell and Moby, took Americana and propelled it into the 21st century.  They borrow from roots traditions, but they’re making the music of our time.  This has been an Echo Location, Soundings for New Music.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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