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Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (ECM)

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Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: "Small Town"
Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: “Small Town”

Although he’s collaborated with dozens of diverse artists throughout his career, guitarist Bill Frisell is still somewhat picky about whom he chooses to work with. He requires a rapport that is both simpatico and challenging—no sense playing with someone unless they’re going to take him someplace new. He’s one of the most adaptable, open-minded musicians around, at his most fertile when he’s plugged directly into other sharp minds.

Thomas Morgan, the double bassist who shares this live-at-the-Village-Vanguard session with Frisell, is a good fit. He’s understated, never in the way and savvy enough to serve as solid support to Frisell’s frugal precision. On the Carter Family-associated “Wildwood Flower,” the two engage in a sprightly, good-humored dance, Morgan occasionally suggesting melodic alternatives that Frisell is all too happy to take up. For Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” Morgan walks it as Frisell talks it; they’re on parallel paths that intersect just often enough to remind them that they’re headed in the same direction.

“It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago,” the 11-minute opener, is an homage to the late Paul Motian, with whom Frisell (along with saxophonist Joe Lovano) played for decades. Morgan, too, was a longtime Motian associate, and there’s a pronounced reverence in their delivery here—Frisell’s crystalline, pianistic tone bolstered by Morgan’s lucid, bold, nomadic contemplations. “Song for Andrew No. 1” is an encore performance, having appeared on drummer Andrew Cyrille’s 2016 ECM release The Declaration of Musical Independence, a quartet recording on which Frisell is the featured guitarist. Here it’s softer and less trippy but equally expressive.

They end on a fun note: the theme song from the 1964 James Bond film, Goldfinger. Unlike Shirley Bassey’s brassy vocal hit, the Frisell-Morgan take—which would have made Frisell’s Guitar in the Space Age! album even cooler—jabs and spars with the melody, exhorting and avoiding as much as stating definitively. It’s quite the hoot.

Originally Published