"I feel so lucky. I can't believe I get to do all of this stuff."
This "stuff," as Bill Frisell—the American jazz guitarist and composer—terms it, is touring the world with his latest album, All We Are Saying. Released in September of last year, the 17-song acoustic collection features John Lennon's most beloved songs, half of which belong to his time with the Beatles. Frisell brings the tour to the Napa Valley Opera House on July 8.
Never having recorded an album comprising solely cover songs, Frisell says the project was "put before him." "It's strange how this album came about," he says on the phone from a tour stop in Montreal. "In a way, it seems like an obvious thing to do, because that music has had a huge impact on me. I was 12 years old when I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, just when I was getting fired up about the guitar. It really changed my life in the biggest way."
Known for his creative and expert use of guitar pedals, Frisell's interpretations are ridden with musical effects. Frisell stays true to his signature ethereal style by creating cinematic versions of the popular tunes; every song on the album is a fresh reimagining, and while sweet, a sense of longing underscores each track.
"In My Life" is slowed down to sweet, forlorn effect. "Come Together" is more bluesy, making it a definite departure from the original. "Mother," a signature Lennon song, also takes a turn down the blues path to become more melancholy than the original. The album's namesake song, "Give Peace a Chance," ties loosely to the original upbeat ditty, but finds its own spiritual sound.
Although Frisell is highly accomplished—he has over 40 albums to his name—he's not done learning. "The music has been around me my whole life, but in another way I feel like I am just beginning to get deeper into it. Every night there has been something more to uncover with this music."
In fact, All We Are Saying could be just the beginning of a series of Lennon-inspired albums. "There are so many John Lennon songs, we could easily do one or two more albums of just that music," Frisell says, preferring to savor this moment instead of plan for the future.
"I am usually doing a hundred different things at the same time, but this is one moment when I can focus on one project, and it feels really good."
Bill Frisell and Friends play Sunday, July 8, at the Napa Valley Opera House. 1030 Main St., Napa. $25–$30. 7pm. 707.226.7372.