Bill Frisell – When You Wish Upon a Star – OKeh/Sony Music – OKeh/Sony

by | Mar 20, 2016 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

The magic of movies and television as heard via Bill Frisell’s imagination.

Bill Frisell – When You Wish Upon a Star [TrackList follows] – OKeh/Sony Music Masterworks 88875142212, 63:26 [1/29/16] ****1/2:

(Bill Frisell – electric and acoustic guitar, arranger; Petra Haden – voice; Eyvind Kang – viola; Thomas Morgan – bass; Rudy Royston – drums, percussion)

Guitarist Bill Frisell found inspiration in his past for his latest effort, the 63-minute When You Wish Upon a Star. Over the course of 16 tracks, Frisell explores movie music and television show themes linked to cinema and TV programs he grew up with, including material from the James Bond franchise, Disney animation, westerns, and more. Frisell approaches the compositions on When You Wish Upon a Star as a magnification of his ongoing engagement with Americana and roots music, such as 1997’s Nashville, 2000’s Ghost Town and his evocative and reimagined Buster Keaton soundtracks.

There is an impressionistic and sometimes atmospheric magnetism which permeates When You Wish Upon a Star. Frisell and his group rarely crank up the volume. Rather, Frisell sustains a sublime evolution with his quintet, which comprises vocalist Petra Haden (one of bassist Charlie Haden’s three daughters; she’s collaborated on other Frisell records); viola player Eyvind Kang (who has previously recorded with Frisell on several previous releases); bassist Thomas Morgan (his résumé includes Paul Motian, John Abercrombie and Dan Weiss); and drummer Rudy Royston (another Frisell alum, whose credits include Ron Miles, Tia Fuller and Dave Douglas). No matter the album’s musical sources, Frisell puts a fresh spin on each piece, infusing each one with his rural demeanor and pastoral deportment.

Western fans will probably gravitate to tunes by Ennio Morricone, Dale Evans and others. One of the highlights is a three-part Once Upon a Time in the West medley which features themes penned by Morricone. Frisell provides an otherworldly beauty to the main theme (replicating in part what Morricone accomplished for his soundtrack to Sergio Leone’s 1968 film), accentuated by Haden’s wordless voicing and Kang’s mellifluous strings. There is underlying vehemence and punch to the second part, subtitled “As a Judgement,” where broiling percussion, a screeching electronic quality (heightened by Kang’s fierce viola) and Frisell’s stinging guitar lines are at the forefront, all of which hint at the impending violence in Leone’s movie. The final segment, “Farewell to Cheyenne,” has a zippy zest, and is slightly puckish and good-natured in form and structure. There’s also full-on nostalgia and flavorful fun on a brief version of the Bonanza theme, which doesn’t stray too much from the original (with the exception of Haden’s wordless chanting of the melodic line). Frisell and Haden keep the amusement level high on the appropriate closer, a short interpretation of Evans’ “Happy Trails,” complete with clip-clop percussion and Frisell’s western-tinged guitar.

Several tracks immediately stand out from other tunes. First there is “You Only Live Twice,” which comes from the 1967 Bond film of the same name, and was an early hit for Nancy Sinatra. Frisell’s interpretation is lovely, with a wonderful synergy between Frisell, Haden and Kang. Haden attains a dramatic denotation without using any vocal fervor, utilizing a voice which resounds quietly with nuanced intensity, while Frisell and the other musicians echo John Barry’s motif, including a very light Asian suggestion. Haden is also first-rate on the title track, originally from Walt Disney’s 1940 animated movie, Pinocchio. Frisell/Haden fans should recognize this cut, since it also appeared on their 2003 collaboration Petra Haden & Bill Frisell. Frisell stays true to his prior arrangement, emphasizing a sense of goodness and a lullaby-like statement which nicely nods to a wistful Hollywood past. A different kind of cinematic times-gone-by is illustrated in a lengthy, nearly nine-minute excursion through some of Nino Rota’s music from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 mafia family drama, The Godfather. The medley of themes is vibrantly magical, a combination of Italian folk embellishments, a film noir-ish undertow, a rhythmical apprehension, and an exquisite interplay between Frisell and Kang during the concluding love theme. Longtime Frisell listeners who yearn for his guitar freak-outs may not get as much enjoyment from this record, but those same fans won’t be disappointed with Frisell’s newly-updated translation of his “Tales from the Dark Side,” which he initially did for an animated TV special based on Gary Larson’s comic strip. Here, Frisell builds gradually from a serene groove to a noisy finish full of Frisell’s fiery and amped-up electric guitar. Other highpoints include the two-part homage to Elmer Bernstein’s soundtrack music for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird (the book’s author, Harper Lee, passed away soon after Frisell’s CD was released); and a two-part presentation which employs Bernard Herrmann’s music from Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Psycho.

TrackList: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pt. 1; To Kill a Mockingbird, Pt. 2; You Only Live Twice; Psycho, Pt. 1; Psycho, Pt. 2; The Shadow of Your Smile; Bonanza; Once Upon a Time in the West (Theme): (As a Judgment)-(Farewell to Cheyenne); When You Wish Upon a Star; Tales from the Far Side; Moon River; The Godfather; The Bad and the Beautiful; Happy Trails.

—Doug Simpson

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