Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Epistrophy

Label: ECM Records

Personnel – Bill Frisell: guitar; Thomas Morgan: acoustic bass.

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Epistrophy marks another beautiful encounter between guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan. The follow up to Small Town boasts a formidable repertoire captured live at The Village Vanguard in March 2016, having Jerome Kern’s “All is Fun” opening it in a marvelously relaxed atmosphere. Frisell’s fascinating melodicism is knee-deep in rhythmic ideas, and Morgan, who lightly swings for a while, assures not only a superior foundation but also constructs it in an interactive way.

In addition to the aforementioned opener, it was the bassist who suggested The Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me”, an R&B hit from the early 60s that comes affiliated to “Wildwood Flower”, the folk song that serves it as an intro. On many occasions, Morgan communicates with Frisell by responding to his thoughtful guitar work. It’s not uncommon to hear exquisite guitar harmonics adorning the tunes and Billy Strayhorn’s sweet ballad “Lush Life” doesn’t let me lie. Another example is Monk’s “Pannonica”, which also does a great job in highlighting the instrumentalists’ soulful lyricism and sharp tonalities. It’s a joy to experience all these magnetic chords brimming with delicious extensions.

Since only top-notch musicians have the ability to make knotty passages sound simple, don’t be surprised if the rendition of Paul Motian’s whimsical “Mumbo Jumbo” surfaces natural and uncomplicated. The rubato approach invites us to freer, non-linear flights and the song is given a totally different perspective after the infusion of tasteful machinelike effects inflicted by Frisell’s sound-altering pedal.

If the duo performed “Goldfinger” in their previous outing, then they picked another James Bond theme to be part of this new work - “You Only Live Twice” is jazzified with an impressive atmospheric radiance, engrossing textures, and a dreamy sound that lingers. It’s one of the most beautiful moments on the album, which gains a tantalizing dimension with the confident gestures in the bass accompaniment.

The title track is another Monk classic whose telepathic and freewheeling interpretation includes melodic fragmentation, blues sparkle, and swinging flair. Frisell’s comping is smart and fun, and the original melody only shows up at the end in all its clarity.

In the aftermath of the traditional “Red River Valley”, an obvious folk ride, the album comes to an end in balladic gorgeousness with “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”.

Owners of an immeasurable musicality, Frisell and Morgan embark on impeccable narrations of well-known gems, in a clear demonstration of their interactive dexterity. It’s mind-boggling how they put such a fresh spin in so many familiar songs, and all we want to do is play them over and over.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Mumbo Jumbo ► 04 - You Only Live Twice ► 06 - Epistrophy


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


Jakob Bro - Streams

Jakob Bro: guitar; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Joey Baron: drums.

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Jakob Bro is a Danish jazz guitarist with a highly identifiable sound and deep intimacy inherent to his poetic approach and pallid textures. Streams, his second album on ECM, is a more-than-competent follow-up to Gefion, released one year ago on the same label.
In this transcendent body of work, Bro kept the outstanding bassist Thomas Morgan on his side, giving the drummer’s chair to Joey Baron, who replaced Jon Christensen.

Opal” starts with a comprehensive circumspection. The trio embarks on a touching quietude that envelops us profoundly, instigating us to fly, open our hearts and souls, and gaze the infinite light beams that can traverse the scattered clouds up in the sky.
Heroines” assumes a song format, shinning with Bro’s blissful melodies, Morgan’s dedicated bass notes, and Baron’s frequent gentile ruffs. It conveys a glowing harmony that I refuse to let go, even when the following track arrives.

The relentlessly atmospheric “PM Dream”, dedicated to Paul Motian, expands horizons after developing delicate layers of guitar-synth that fall on top of bass free moves and pertinent percussion. Baron almost feels geometric in its strokes, eagerly trying to give the last retouches on a flawless canvas.
Cerebrally designed, “Full Moon Europa”, precedes the surprisingly groovy “Shell Pink”, which gracefully flows amidst the floating sounds created by Bro’s guitar fingerings. The rhythm section boasts an enviable tightness, fundamental to attain this level of quality.
The indelible classical undertones of “Heroines” echoes again, this time in an enchanting solo version.

Jakob Bro relies heavily on his peers to create an elegant album, free of individual exhibitionism, which is an assured itinerary for his compositional concepts. The collective does miracles as it distinctively shapes idle, hypnotizing, nocturnal, and intellectual streams of pacific nature.

          Grade  A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Opal ► 02 – Heroines ► 05 – Shell Pink