Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan - Small Town

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup – Bill Frisell: guitar; Thomas Morgan: bass.

The re-encounter of two contemporary jazz giants and virtuosos in the handling of their respective instruments spawned an ECM album recorded live at the gorgeous Village Vanguard and entitled Small Town. The gentlemen in question are guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, who have been working and recording together since 2011. Their sounds have interlocked outstandingly in Jakob Bro’s December Song and Time, Paul Motian’s The Windmills of Your Mind, and Frisell’s last work, I Wish Upon a Star.

The musical symbiosis that results from their interplay couldn’t have been more elucidative than in the opening tune, “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago”. This airy piece is one of the most beautiful compositions by the late drummer Paul Motian, who first recorded it in 1984 with a bass-less trio that comprised Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Morgan speaks a language of his own, whether connecting with Frisell’s voicings and harmonics or roaming freely and with no apparent destiny. The clarity, weightlessness, and transparency of this piece sent me into a levitating state where gravity wasn’t enough to pull me down. It gave me such a peace of mind as I kept embracing its idleness with all my strength. 

While the rendering of “Subconscious Lee” pays homage to its auteur, the saxophonist Lee Konitz, by combining happy bass hops with folkish infiltrating sounds and making the tune lose its original post-bop feel, “Song For Andrew No 1” is a recent piece composed by Frisell for drummer Andrew Cyrille. It was written for and featured in the drummer’s latest album The Declaration of Musical Independence. The duo version maintains the dreamy atmosphere, but finds even more room to breathe, conveying a lovely melancholy that could be compared to the Portuguese Fado.

From this point on, the versatile duo deliberately plunges into the folk genre, giving it their own touch and taking us to the vastness of American prairies and savannahs. While “Wildwood Flower” shows a typical narrative affiliated to its bluegrass roots, Fats Domino’s R&B “What a Party” carries something funny in its melody and rhythm, bringing to mind the farcical moves of Chaplin and Keaton in those classic silent movies.
Brimming with charisma, Frisell’s idyllic title track increases the sense of uncertainty through enthralling guitar voicings, differing from “Poet/Pearl”, the only composition by the duo, whose harmonic/melodic passages feel more familiar and some of them quite reminiscent of the popular “My One and Only Love”.

The record ends in a somewhat noirish mood with the furtive “Goldfinger”, a 007 theme that became popular in 1964 through the voice of Shirley Bassey.

This is a meritorious record by two high-flyers who already showed what they got. On every tune, one gets the impression of moving in an immense space and this music, at its purest artistic form, gets so easily under your skin.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago ► 03 – Song For Andrew No 1 ► 05 – Small Town