Album Reviews

Bill Frisell

When You Wish Upon a Star

Artist:     Bill Frisell

Album:     When You Wish Upon A Star

Label:     OKeh

Release Date:     01/29/2016


Very few musicians are as adept at re-imagining and reinventing the familiar as Bill Frisell has been throughout his expansive solo catalog that exceeds 40 albums, not to mention his considerable work as a sideman. This album is no exception, and, in fact, may be one of the best examples. Frisell could well be the embodiment of what a DJ friend of mine once said: “Jazz is not a type of music, but it is a way of playing music.”

As the title may suggest, this is an homage to iconic scores of film and television, and it’s done by a close group of frequent collaborators, like-minded souls who share his gift for improvising off the familiar. Frisell describes the process this way, “unique process as beginning with listening to as many versions of the pieces as possible and committing any lyrics to heart, followed by total immersion in the original score (harmony, phrasing, arrangement), learning the notes and hours of practice. Finally, when it’s in the blood, the musicians are ready to deliver their interpretations.” Joining him on this project are violinist Eyvind Kang, drummer Rudy Royston, bassist Thomas Morgan and vocalist Petra Haden.

Marrying music with visual imagery has long been integral to his music. Frisell says, “I’ve been watching TV and movies my whole life. What I’ve seen and heard there is a huge part of and is embedded so deeply into the fabric of what fire sup my musical imagination.” The album has four pillars or “suites”:  To Kill a Mockingbird, Psycho, Once Upon a Time in the West and The Godfather, surrounded by the title track, “Moon River,” similar dreamy tunes and the lighthearted “Bonanza” and “Happy Trails,” among others. Frisell’s own work from the TV show “Tales From The Far Side” is also featured.

The harmonic ebb and flow between Frisell’s guitar, Kang’s violin and limitless vocal range are often breathtaking, and the rhythm section blends in seamlessly, never overstepping their roles in the given piece. To focus directly on Haden’s incredible vocals, listen to “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Moon River,” or the title track. You’ll get a direct feel for Kang’s emotive bow meeting string on the epic The Godfather.

You can hear a different aspect of Frisell on Lucinda Williams’ new double disc, The Ghosts of Highway 20, due next week. Frisell is touring extensively, and these are some dates to note:

2/5 – Kings Theater, Brooklyn

2/19 – Old Town School, Chicago

3/8-13 and 3/15-20 – Village Vanguard, NYC.

– Jim Hynes

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