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Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy (ECM)

A review of the guitarist's second live album featuring the bassist

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Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy
The cover of Epistrophy by Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan

Can devotees of guitarist Bill Frisell listen to Epistrophy without connecting a lot of dots? Not likely. Recorded live at Manhattan’s Village Vanguard and prominently featuring bassist Thomas Morgan, these intuitive duets resonate with the signature elements of Frisell’s uncommon discography: the borderless repertoire, the sparse yet inimitable arrangements, the deliberate consideration given to tone, space, and, most important here, shared sensibility.

A follow-up to 2017’s Small Town, recorded in the same setting and yielding similar rewards, Epistrophy reveals such a curious assortment of influences that it could best be described as “Frisellian,” if that view didn’t overlook the significant role Morgan plays. Paul Motian’s mosaic-like “Mumbo Jumbo,” for instance, seems a particularly apt choice given the musicians’ connections with the late drummer, and it swiftly lives up to high expectations. Then, too, there are unexpected gems. For example, the Drifters’ R&B hit “Save the Last Dance for Me,” a Morgan suggestion prefaced by, yep, “Wildwood Flower,” makes for a delightful pivot—think Marty Robbins meets Doc Pomus.

In addition to singular duo interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” and “Pannonica,” the duo offers canny takes on tunes associated with Frank Sinatra (“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”), Billy Strayhorn (“Lush Life”), and composer John Barry (“You Only Live Twice”). All the while, Frisell and Morgan traffic in a seductive brand of interplay. The guitarist leads the way with subdued electric tones, punctuating his spacious lyricism with double-stop accents and shimmering harmonics. No wallflower, Morgan is alternatively assertive and supportive, whether creating sleek propulsion, devising nuanced contrapuntal designs, or fashioning solos that also add new facets and dimensions to the performance.

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Mike Joyce

A former editor of JazzTimes, Mike Joyce has written extensively on jazz, blues, country, and pop music for The Washington Post, Maryland and Washington, D.C. public television stations, and other outlets.