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Bill Frisell: When You Wish Upon a Star

Ian Patterson By

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There's something undeniably powerful about the music of one's youth, whether it be the theme tune to a much loved children's TV show, the pop music of our teens or the soundtracks to the classic films that signpost the passing of the years. When You Wish Upon a Star pays tribute to well-known film and television theme tunes from the 1950s to the 1970s and represents the latest foray from Frisell, following his John Lennon tribute All We Are Saying... (Savoy, 2011) and Guitar in The Space Age! (Sony, 2014), down the musical highways and byways of his youth, with Petra Haden, Eyvind Kang, Thomas Morgan and Rudy Royston equal partners in Frisell's journey.

Heartfelt nostalgia, and elegantly portrayed without a doubt, but only occasionally does the music catch fire, such as on the two-part adaptation of Elmer Bernstein's "To Kill a Mockingbird," which smoulders and sparks enticingly. It's the first of several mini-suites, alongside "Psycho" and "Once Upon a Time in the West": the former—which Haden interpreted on Petra Goes To The Movies (Anti Records, 2013)—flits between urgent rhythms, tense melodic arcs and dreamy atmospherics; the latter's greater episodic nature allows more scope for the quartet to explore, carving a trail that embraces wistful lyricism, epic cinematic grandeur and playfulness in turn. In the final segment, Haden's wordless vocals Kang's viola weave delightful harmonic lines while Frisell adds judicious brush strokes.

Haden's wordless singing adds emotional nuance to the extended instrumental passages and she shines in her own right on several tracks. Framed by Frisell and Kang's intuitive interplay, Haden's crystalline delivery seduces on "You Only Live Twice"—the John Barry/Leslie Bricusse Bond theme originally sung by Nancy Sinatra. The title track and "Moon River" were previously interpreted by Frisell and Haden on their duet album Petra Haden and Bill Frisell (Sovereign Artists, 2005) and whilst there's no escaping the chemistry at work, a stab at previously unworked material might have lessened the gnawing feeling across the recording that a little more adventure wouldn't have gone amiss.

They don't write TV theme tunes anymore like Jay Livingstone/Ray Evans "Bonanza"; Thomas Morgan's chugging bass evokes the shadow of Johnny Cash on a rousing, country-ish rendition that will evoke memories—for those of a certain age—of The Ponderosa Ranch, ten gallon hats and the pursuit of social justice; you didn't have to be there in the 1960s/1970s to appreciate what is still a great tune, but it's also true that an emotional connection with the TV shows and films that Frisell and co revisit here lends the performances added poignancy.

The sole Frisell original, "Tales from the Far Side" is an atmospheric reworking of a tune that appeared on Quartet (Nonesuch, 1996), with Haden's ethereal vocal and Frisell's pedal-driven guitar stamping new authority on old ground. Two of the most satisfying tunes are opposites in conception; the loose-improvisational footing of "The Godfather" provides fertile ground for exploration, while Haden's heavenly layered harmonies and Rudy Royston's clippity-clop rhythm on "Happy Days" closes the album on delightfully sunny note that, should you chance to sing along, cannot help but make you smile -and that may just be the whole point.

Track Listing: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pt. 1; To Kill a Mockingbird, Pt. 2; You Only Live Twice; Psycho, Pt. 1; Psycho, Pt. 1; The Shadow of Your Smile; Bonanza; Once Upon a Time In the West (theme); Once Upon a Time in the West (As a Judgement); Once Upon a Time in the West (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.

Personnel: Bill Frisell: electric and acoustic guitar; Petra Haden: voice; Eyvind Kang: viola; Thomas Morgan: bass; Rudy Royston: drums, percussion.

Title: When You Wish Upon a Star | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Okeh

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