I remember Bill Frisell‘s fantastic performance at last year’s North Sea Jazz Festival – it was actually one of the best concerts I saw during those three days. Part of his repertoire were songs from movies and TV and his latest album is just that: Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and music from “Psycho” and “To Kill A Mockingbird”, among them.
The album works in parts I think – his long-time team of Eyvind Kang (viola), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums, percussion) celebrate Elmer Bernstein’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” in two distinct parts at the beginning of the album – with hilariously oblique sound canvases like we’re used to expect from them. Where it doesn’t work (and this is the majority of the album), is in the songs which feature singer Petra Haden (Charlie Haden’s daughter). She ruins “You Only Live Twice” where she sounds as if she is really struggling with the song. And her interpretation of “The Shadow Of Your Smile” is downright cold and brings nothing new to the table.
There are three variations from “Once Upon A Time In The West”, the theme song being fucked up by Haden with her slouchy backing and the song itself on the edge of extreme absurdity. The “judgement” part is simply boring and only the “Farewell To Cheyenne” piece has some merit to it for about a minute or so until Haden’s la-la vocals set in. I mean, really? I can’t believe this is a Bill Frisell record. I had some hope for the only piece here written by Frisell himself (“Tales From The Far Side”) and yet again, those useless and out of place backing vocals make everything ‘kaputt’. It is an annoying and disproportionate tool which makes me beg for an early ending.
The album would have been much better without the vocals. Just listen to “When You Wish Upon A Star” or “Moon River” and you know exactly what I mean. It really made me cringe. I kinda like his take on “The Godfather” but overall, I wish he would stay away from preconceived material like this. The two short takes on “Psycho” and the equally short “Bonanza” are just nonsense. And the mushy vocals are really putting this release in the negligible category. For a longtime Bill Frisell fan, this is a major disappointment.