When I was offered the chance to review master guitarist Bill Frisell’s latest release I was anxious for the opportunity. Before receiving the album, I had only the title to contemplate: Guitar in the Space Age. I thought someone in the promotional department at Okeh Records had an especially bad idea. Guitar? In the space age? Didn’t they know the space age came and went in the early ‘60s? Then I received the album and all became clear.
Mr. Frisell, now 63, came of age during these formative years when rock ‘n’ roll and electric guitar were beginning their conquest of the world, if not of outer space. This album is evenly divided between covers of tunes from the early ‘60s and original compositions. It is a flawless foray into some of the great timeless recordings of the age and new tunes in homage to the age.
Mr. Frisell opens the set with a cover of the Chantays’ classic instrumental “Pipeline”. He captures it perfectly then moves on into one of the definitive recordings of the age, the Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn”. Once again he retains the power of the original while crafting it into something new and refreshing. He goes on to offer a number of originals, a superb cover of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You” and closes with the immortal Tornados’ anthem “Telstar”. Of special note is the fourth track, a cover of the very first record Mr. Frisell ever bought, the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl”. Listen to it; mere words are inadequate praise.
This album is clearly autobiographical and close to this great guitarist’s heart. Chuck Berry once wrote “I got no kick against modern jazz / Unless you try to play it too darn fast / And change the beauty of the melody.” Bill Frisell never once loses that beauty.