While music is captive to constant recycling, nostalgia is out of fashion. We live in the now and keep looking forward as life coaches remind us that wallowing in a past that we can’t change is redundant. Not so with Bill Frisell – revered American guitarist, composer and Grammy Award winner. His latest album When You Wish Upon a Star is a compilation of his reimaginings of diverse influential film and television themes from his childhood and adolescence, and the concert of the same name is such a mesmerising distillation of memory that breaking it down into its parts with song introductions and explanations would have been jarring.
Bill Frisell. Photograph: supplied
The quartet of musicians on show were impressive. While Petra Haden (daughter of legendary Ornette Coleman bassist Charlie Haden) provided the vocal glue, the complexity of the rhythms and improvisation underpinning her were breathtaking. Rudy Royston’s versatility with sticks and brushes complemented by Thomas Morgan’s frenetic finger work on bass fused seamlessly with Frisell whose guitar arrangements varied from quiet and subtle as on the title track through to rock rhythms on Once Upon a Time in the West – Farewell to Cheyenne and Tales of the Far Side reminiscent of Neil Young’s solo electric guitar soundtrack on Dead Man. And though it sounded like free jazz, the trio never wandered far from Haden.
Of course, Frisell’s memories belong to him, the collection was idiosyncratic and it took some googling to tie it all together. Yet, it all made sense and there was enough familiarity to allow everyone to connect at different stages. Early childhood wonderment was represented through the title track followed by Elmer Bernstein’s To Kill a Mockingbird in two parts and It Changes from Snoopy Come Home. Things transitioned suddenly to the teenage years and scantily clad Bond girls (You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger), and while she doesn’t have Shirley Bassey’s brute ferocity, Haden’s youthful melodious tone – more akin to Linda Ronstadt here – was an interesting contrast.
Roy Rogers’ Happy Trails was a shared memory and a pleasant surprise, but given the events of recent weeks, the generous encore of Bacharach’s classic What the World Needs Now and Henry Mancini’s Moon River provided a poignant reminder of why nostalgia can be so intoxicating. Not surprisingly, the audience was both entranced and uplifted, rising to their feet in appreciation.