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Review: Bill Frisell – When You Wish Upon a Star

Cabaret Festival

Guitarist Bill Frisell achieves a melodic, dreamy style with his Adelaide Cabaret Festival show featuring interpretations of classic Hollywood film tracks.

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Bill Frisell has been a doyen figure of North American popular jazz since the early 1980s. Throughout these years he has often linked his work to Americana themes and styles, and has to his credit a very impressive 40 or so albums, some of them collaborations with pop/rock giants such as Elvis Costello and Bono; he is a significant figure in American music.

Often performing with a trio, he has even steered into the backwaters of bluegrass and country; his diversity has been further proved by providing the music for the film version of The Far Side in the late ’90s.

The show he has brought to Australia this time focuses on music from Hollywood movies. When You Wish Upon a Star brings together a collection of tunes from films, some obvious selections, some much less so.

The style achieved throughout the show is melodic, dreamy, even trance-like.

Frisell’s style is effective over the title song, with subdued crystal picks making us think of a sky full of stars. The hypnotic mood of the program is confirmed with “The Windmills of Your Mind” and then “You Only Live Twice”, in which he gets off the leash with some strong solo work.

There are numbers from Psycho, Once Upon a Time in the West and The Godfather. At one point on opening night, the mood strengthened and Frisell punched out a strong slow rock riff and even a semi-arpeggiated power chord. The brief change in style was welcome; it seemed Link Wray had returned to us for a moment.

Throughout the show, drummer Rudy Royston is central. He really is another instrument, capturing the mood of each piece and punctuating it with snappy snare work and muffled sticks – always interesting to watch and listen to.

Bassist Thomas Morgan might look fresh out of music school, but he is faultless and captivating on bass, drawing applause with his jazzy solo runs.

Singer Petra Haden has her own history as a violinist and vocalist who has worked with top bands including the Foo Fighters. She sings well without really captivating or appearing at ease. It is the unfortunate fate of singers to often have to be the personality focal point of a band, but an audience participation section led by Haden never quite got off the ground.

Bill Frisell is a clever and eclectic musician who obviously has the authority to put together very good bands to support him. To choose the theme of Hollywood tunes might seem to be swimming in the middle of the stream, but not all numbers are obvious and the hypnotic treatments had the crowd pretty much in thrall throughout.

Bill Frisell’s final Adelaide Cabaret Festival show is the Dunstan Playhouse tonight (Sunday). See more Adelaide Cabaret Festival reviews and previews here.

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