365 Days, 365 Files: Bill Frisell – Billy the Kid: Celebration After Billy’s Capture

When I heard Bill Frisell tear through Naked City’s miniature hardcore epics, I made the usual youthful assumption that Frisell plays that way everywhere. His own albums, however, come from a creative space worlds apart from John Zorn’s seminal band. Where Naked City was precisely controlled, compact chaos, Frisell’s solo albums were expansive, transparent serenity.

Have a Little Faith, Frisell’s cover album from 1993, is what every cover album should be — a perfect balance between the spirit of the source material and an interpreter’s own perspective. At times, Frisell’s take on a song is worlds apart from the source material. He made the songs his own without shutting out the author’s voice.

The album starts ambitiously with Aaron Copland’s entire orchestral ballet suite, Billy the Kid, reduced to a stage band. He even manages to make some leeway for the kind of whacked out improvisation so essential to downtown New York jazz.

How many cover albums do you know can faithfully translate an entire orchestral suite for a five-piece band? (Don’t go throwing Emerson, Lake and Palmer in my face — I wasn’t impressed with what they did to Modeste Mussorgsky.)

Frisell doesn’t stop with Copland — he also performs Charles Ives, John Phillip Sousa, Bob Dylan, Jon Hiatt and Madonna.

Have a Little Faith was my favorite album of 1993. It managed to beat out Duran Duran’s The Wedding Album, which is no mean feat since that album was also incredible.

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