Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan – Small Town
(ECM 574 6341. CD review by Peter Bacon)
As a reviewer I always approach a new Bill Frisell disc with a certain trepidation. Over the last couple of decades of writing about him I have searched in vain for something negative to say. It threatens to undermine one’s credibility as a critic; one comes across instead as a gushing fan.
Oh well… I am sure there are listeners out there who just don’t “get” Frisell; I am not in that group.
A duo album from him is a rare thing, which I guess suggests he’s fussy about just one partner. His choice here is, naturally, impeccable.
The young – well he looks young though I realise he has been on the scene for a while – double bass player Thomas Morgan has already made a name for himself as the sort of sideman who brings real character with him to every performance. It strikes me listening to this disc that he’s more of a rightful successor to Charlie Haden than most. He has the touch, the melodic facility and, most important of all, a certain gravitas.
Small Town is a live set from the Village Vanguard, and the two musicians interact effortlessly, the deep woody tone of Morgan acting as the ideal foil to the wiry, ringing electric guitar of Frisell.
The programme is as varied as you would expect from Frisell, opening with It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago from a great Vanguard regular, the late drummer Paul Motian, and continuing with a Lee Konitz tune, the perfectly-titled Subconscious Lee. Three originals, some Fats Domino and the classic folk melody Wildwood Flower follow, finishing in full cinemascope with the theme from Goldfinger.
If there are any jazz police reservists out there who pooh-pooh Frisell’s country forays and gainsay the space guitar outings, then the Konitz should shut them up. Frisell is in eloquent, (almost) pure jazz mode with Morgan striding purposefully alongside him. The thoughtful Song For Andrew 1 is a quiet masterpiece in resonating chords and synchronised duo phrasing of the most graceful kind. Wildwood Flower has that hokey, down-home, porch vibe, but the wit the two men cram into their ever inventive, inter-twisting lines, puts the smile muscles to work big-time.
The longest track is Poet – Pearl, the only one credited to both Frisell and Morgan as composers. Is it a spontaneous improv? The slow start of guitar harmonics and holding bass phrases suggests so but Frisell quickly moves into a melodic line and Morgan is a deep-voiced sprite in pursuit. The results that develop leisurely are quietly sublime, a drawled conversation from two men who speak the same language and speak it with equal articulacy.
Suffice to say, were my CD collection to be held hostage by some crazed kidnapper, and were I permitted to plead for the release of just one artist, Bill Frisell would definitely be on the short list. Now for heaven’s sake, let this gushing end!
Here is a short taster: