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Bill Frisell: When You Wish Upon a Star

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Had it been released a few months ago, this CD would have made a perfect holiday gift for the Frisell fan who can’t get enough TMC. Yet another example of the prolific guitarist’s imagination and wanderlust, When You Wish Upon a Star is proof that going Hollywood (and, actually, well beyond) isn’t necessarily a bad thing-at least not for a musician with an idiosyncratic flair for interpretation and a wide-angle view of film and TV themes worth revisiting.

Whether or not you agree with the tune choices will largely depend on your taste and, perhaps to some degree, your age. Not that Frisell focuses on specific periods or moods for very long. On the contrary, he’s constantly changing reels to sometimes jarring or whimsical effect, as the album’s opening (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) and closing (yes, “Happy Trails”) themes attest. In between these selections, the most striking performances not only offer fresh thematic perspectives but also reveal the sensibilities Frisell shares with certain composers.

That’s never more evident than when the guitarist pays canny homage to Bernard Herrmann with “Psycho”-it’s worth noting that Frisell contributed music to Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of the film-or when “Once Upon a Time in the West” similarly underscores Frisell’s affinity for the music of Ennio Morricone. In a dramatically softer light, by turns nostalgic and romantic, Frisell and his bandmates also capture the inherent charms of “Moon River,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” and the album’s glowing title track. (Frisell’s own “Tales From the Far Side” also earns a place.) Sometimes words accompany the music; vocalist Petra Haden, daughter of Charlie, is briefly and smartly featured. But unforgettable themes are the real draw here, reconfigured with ingenuity, wit and affection by Frisell and a terrific group featuring violist Eyvind Kang, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston.

Originally Published