Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (ECM 2525)

Small Town

Small Town

Bill Frisell guitar
Thomas Morgan double bass
Recorded March 2016 at Village Vanguard, New York
Engineers: James A. Farber and Paul Zinman
Mixing at Avatar Studios December 2016: James A. Farber, Manfred Eicher, Bill Frisell, and Thomas Morgan
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: May 26, 2017

In this intimately performed and recorded album, one of two documenting a historic performance at New York City’s Village Vanguard, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan show us what it means to treat jazz as a dialogue. While floating on the waves of their complementary artistry, we encounter one vessel after another of quiet majesty, each more attuned to the stars of navigation than the last.

Because Frisell and Morgan both played at the last session of Paul Motian, it’s only fitting they open with the drummer’s “It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago,” their meditation on which unravels in an 11-minute exhale. This experience alone was more than worth the price of admission for those fortunate enough to have been at the Vanguard that night, and is a perfect summation, if not also aconsummation, of the duo’s boundless imagination.

“Subconscious Lee” follows by paying homage to its composer, Lee Konitz, with an uplifting yet fiercely inward-focused reading. Frisell’s buoyancy here speaks of a musician well aware of the ethereal hand in which the tether of his creativity is gripped. “Song For Andrew No. 1” bears dedication to Andrew Cyrille. An earlier version appeared on The Declaration of Musical Independence, and now finds itself reborn in amorphous coherence. The guitar is nothing short of haunting, as it is in “Small Town,” wherein it sings with tumbleweed-kissed charm. Morgan is a wonderous complement, not so much supporting from the periphery as bringing out punctuation from within. Between those two Frisell originals, the folk tune “Wildwood Flower” wraps Morgan in joyful comfort. The bassist’s own “Pearl,” one of his earliest compositions, speaks with a certain innocence and basks in its own evolution. His heartfelt soloing thinks back, looks forward.

Fats Domino’s flirtatious “What A Party” and a 1960s-inspired nod to “Goldfinger” strings a daisy chain of allusions like a smile across azure sky, sending us on a mission not to destroy but to share the good news of music that awakens us to deepest sense of self.

Although the conversation begun here might seem to end with its companion album, Epistrophy, it will continue to yield new insights the more it’s heard in the world. For to the world it belongs, a sincere echo of its own creation, resonant and deserving of our undivided regard.

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