Thomas Morgan was nearly the star of a recent Bill Frisell show I saw and he was an important part of Frisell’s tribute to movie soundtracks – here the pair step out as a duo, with this live outing that returns Frisell to ECM, though he’s hardly been away as such – as frequent guest appearances on ECM outings will attest.
Small Town is just Frisell and a semi-acoustic, Morgan and his upright bass. There’s a crowd that appreciates what they hear. And it’s a lovely set of tunes.
This is close to hearing Frisell solo at times – so empathic, warm, slippery and subtle is Morgan’s playing. But it’s also about the interplay, and about the appreciation, and about the way that Morgan plays through. Here’s there, under, inside, always a part of it – even if it seems like, more often than not, it’s his role to let Frisell shine.
Well, these two have such a fine act honed – and in that regard the 11-minute opener, Paul Motian’s gorgeous It Should Have Happened Along Time Ago, tells you all you need to know about this album, gives you the clues and warns you of what’s to come.
But there are several rich moments to follow of course, Song For Andrew No. 1 (one of Frisell’s originals) plays out in a wonderful seep, its richness, again, the ooze of melody and rhythm, the space between Frisell’s lines and the deep anchor that Morgan offers.
The Carter Family’s Wildwood Flower is a showcase for the country sonic that’s always been interpolated in Frisell’s version of jazz – here it dances along on Morgan’s bassline; reminding us, again, that he fills the void left by Charlie Haden’s passing, at least in terms of the way Haden and Frisell worked together.
It’s a sprawling set – eight songs reaching towards 70 minutes – and we close with Goldfinger, a nod to the film tributes that brought Morgan and Frisell together. Here, without the drum flourishes, it’s simply about how much harmony and melody Bill Frisell can coax – and we know from so many of his explorations that his subtle-dazzle is always a remarkable, if nonchalantly served-up feat.
Small Town is a lovely listen, a gentle, calm, but exploratory album; these extrapolations should work to ease you in – or out – of any day.
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