Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan – Small Town (ECM Records, 2017)
The American guitarist, composer and arranger Bill Frisell has produced some extraordinarily fine music over the span of his career that’s been both interesting and engaging, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of us in the music reviewing business sigh a bored little sigh and muttered sullenly, ‘Oh, Bill has put out another recording.’ With colossal collaborations with composer John Zorn and drummer Paul Motian, Mr. Frisell has wowed audiences and music fans with recordings such as Rambler, Lookout for Hope, works, This Land, Good Dog, Happy Man, Nashville, Ghost Town, The Intercontinentals, Beautiful Dremers, Big Sur and When You Wish Upon a Star. He’s lured listeners in with his take on jazz, folk, country and Americana.
Well, Bill is back! Teaming up with bassist and composer Thomas Morgan, Mr. Frisell is set to hit the musical streets with his latest Small Town, set for release on May 26th on the ECM Records label, and hit the musical highways for June and July tour dates at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, the Toronto Jazz Festival, the Rochester Jazz Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival, with a few extra performances in New Haven, Connecticut, Bay Shore, New York and Evanston, Illinois for good measure. So, you lucky folks within range of a venue you’ll need to hop in the car, grab the canoe and saddle up for some sweet jazz scenes this summer.
On the recording of Small Town it doesn’t take but a moment or two to pick up the vibe of this recording. Recorded live at New York’s Village Vanguard, Small Town positively sparkles with jazz goodness.
On playing at the Village Vanguard Mr. Frisell explains, “With all the notes that have been played there, the room is like a Gibson guitar from the 1940s – the history is in the molecules of the wood…We’re not pushing the walls back with volume, after all. You need to focus and get attention from the audience. You can get that at the Vanguard.”
With his own street creds that include collaborations with David Binney, Steve Coleman, Steve Cardenas, Gerald Cleaver, Jakob Bro, Masabumi Kikuchi and leading his own trio, Thomas Morgan has such recording to his name as Down Homeless with VNMG including Will Vinson, Peter Gabis and Steve Newcomb, Monsoon with Scott DuBois Quintet and David Liebman, Beauty Under Construction with Som Sum Sam, Pieces of Old Sky with the Samuel Blaser Quartet, To Fly to Steal with the Sylvie Courvoisier-Mark Feldman Quartet, Wislawa with the Tomasz Sanko New York Quartet and This Is The Day with the Giovanni Guidi Trio. On Small Town the pairing of Mr. Morgan’s bass and Mr. Frisell’s guitar seems easy, effortless and utterly enchanting.
“I asked Thomas to sit in with some of my groups,” says Mr. Frisell, “and we developed this rapport. Thomas has this way of almost time-traveling, as if he sees ahead of the music and sorts it all out before he plays a note. He never plays anything that isn’t a response to what I play, anticipating me in the moment. That sort of support makes me feel weightless, like I can really take off.”
He goes on to say, “Thomas and I are also similar in that we’re both quiet personalities. Whenever I play guitar, that’s my true voice. It’s not so dissimilar with Thomas, I think. Playing the bass is his natural way of expressing himself. And I’m going to steal a phrase from the saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who once said to me before a gig, ‘I’m really looking forward to singing with you.’ I think that way about playing with Thomas, too. He really plays the song, whether it’s a Fats Domino tune or something abstract – the energy comes from the same place.”
Small Town is going to hook listeners from opening track of Paul Motian’s “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago” through to the sleek version of Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious Lee” to the jaunty “Wildwood Flower” to the deep soulful sounds of Mr. Frisell’s composition and title track “Small Town” through to recording’s closing track “Goldfinger,” yeah, that “Goldfinger” from the Bond films. Fans get the goods with the Dave Bartholomew, Fats Somino and Pearl King composition “What a Party” and the Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan joint effort “Poet – Pearl.”
There’s no putting on airs, no impertinence and no rush to get anywhere on Small Town. Sleek lines turn elegant or edgy with a simple turn of phrase from these two masters. Impossibly rich and rewarding, Small Town is musical ride on the endless possibilities of guitar and bass and what shakes loose on that ride.
Buy Small Town