Bill Frisell: When You Wish Upon a Star

Dan Bilawsky By

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Bill Frisell: When You Wish Upon a Star
Bill Frisell's America is a true land of musical opportunity. It's a place where portraits of bucolic beauty can mingle freely with reflections on gritty urban jungles, giving voice to anything and everything from the lighter side of life to the dark underbelly of existence.

This inimitable guitarist's body of written work, along with his priceless interpretations of the music of Aaron Copland, Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Thelonious Monk, George Gershwin, Willie Nelson, and numerous other American icons, has come to paint a complex picture that tells all and hides nothing. Frisell has essentially managed to redefine and co-opt the very concept of cinéma vérité, allowing, welcoming, and thriving on the naked encounter(s) between creator and subject, so it seems incredibly fitting that he would turn that very personalized form of art onto the cinema itself.

When You Wish Upon A Star finds Frisell tackling classic film and television music with astoundingly visceral results. It's an album that peels back the layers of the past, revealing fresh truths while illuminating the aspects of these pieces that we fell in love with in the first place. Everything that fans have come to expect from Frisell—country libations, out-of-focus findings, love-laced melodies, ominous tones, distorted truths—are all here. He's just as likely to create menacing music as he is to mend musical fences, and part of that diversity in approach is also connected to the chosen works. If you're going to put "When You Wish Upon A Star" and sections of Bernard Hermann's film score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho on the same program, there's really no way to walk a single emotional path.

This collection opens with two different sides of Elmer Bernstein's music from To Kill A Mockingbird, immediately touching on depth and diversity. The first is an amalgam of the mysterious and homespun that sets the scene while the second is more powerful and potent, seemingly touching on the story itself. From there, Frisell and company go every which way. There's a brush with Bond, via the Petra Haden-fronted "You Only Live Twice"; two inclusions from the aforementioned Hermann score—a frazzled "Psycho, Pt. 1" and a spectral and entrancing "Psycho, Pt. 2"; some roots encounters, in the form of the happening-turned-hoedown take on "Bonanza" and the cowboy sendoff of "Happy Trails"; a multi-sectioned interpretation of "The Godfather," complete with a foreboding press roll episode from drummer Rudy Royston; and a cross section of music from Ennio Morricone's score to Once Upon A Time In The West, including the dreamy theme, a trippy and twanged-out "As A Judgement," and a reggae-inflected "Farewell To Cheyenne."

The band that joins Frisell for this trip includes some of his favorite collaborators—Haden, Royston, bassist Thomas Morgan, and violist Eyvind Kang—so understanding and comfort run deep in these performances. Frisell imbues these familiar pieces with a sense of wonder, making the old sound new and fresh once again. When You Wish Upon A Star is merely the latest in a long string of compelling recordings from one of jazz's most important voices, but it's one worth relishing.

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.


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

Album information

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

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