When You Wish Upon A Star
Continuing to explore – and re-explore – differing/difficult musical terrain Bill Frisell here serves up a set of TV and film themes. If at first you feel like drifting off on this nostalgic wave (To Kill a Mockingbird, You Only Live Twice, the title track) well, good luck. A master of subtly navigating (and creating) space, Frisell and his supple combo play with characteristic slow-burn, but this is a beguiling and deceptive set. The stabbing string lines of Psycho one minute, the calming vocals of regular collaborator Petra Haden the next (a gorgeous rendition of The Shadow of Your Smile manages to feature every vestige of this brilliant band).
It’s a wonderful, sprawling journey, which seems to – currently – be Frisell’s thing. Well, of course, it’s always been (part of) his thing. But I’m thinking of how this nods back to the very recent albums, the idea behind the gathering of these tunes is akin to the previous record, Guitar In The Space Age! And then the strong featuring of the violin, thoughtful (downright mesmeric lines) from another longtime collaborator, Eyvind Kang, ties this to the sublime Big Sur album (a personal favourite from his line-up of recent recordings).
The rhythm section is Rudy Royston on drums, a faithful follower of Frisell, road and recording partners now for some two decades and though Thomas Morgan is new to recording with Frisell on his material they’ve worked together and he and Royston are well established as a section.
So you hear this in so many of the songs here – everyone’s holding their tongue as they plough through Bonanaza, and again, as with Big Sur, Frisell’s guitar mingles and then mines for space around the violin and drums on the treatment of the Once Upon A Time in the West theme.
Haden’s voice – here working wordlessly – is of course sublime.
And then just as you’re lulled fondly into a western-setting tranquillity, so much so as to smell the air and feel some grit we get the change-up of As A Judgment. Well it’s part of Morricone’s oevre, so we’re still well within smoke-signals but Frisell’s guitar starts to seek out, more decisively, that strange space it occupies so well, within jazz but with spurs-a-janglin’.
If Moon River feels like just another rendition of a ballad-staple, and ultimately it is, the nine-minute crawl through Nino Rota’s main Godfather suite is an altogether different type of bewitchment.
The closer, Happy Trails, reminds of the western feel that dominates, a little clip-clop rhythm and Haden singing us out, but there’s something ever-so-slightly mischievous while all the while still stately about Frisell’s playing.
He really is a great master and this band so perfectly works in and around the space that swirls either side of the melody-mining from Frisell. In a career that has featuring so many spots as a sideman, and then turns as composer, improviser and adapter of material running the gamut through jazz staples, singer/songwriter fare from rock, country and pop and currently a fascinating with soundtrack and instrumental material from the 40s-70s you never have to worry about what will happen next. Nor of course does he; safe hands, a wise and gentle soul and the very best musicians helping him as he guides them through constantly fascinating choices and styles and arrangements. This is not only up to and around his usual standard it may well be one of his very best.