The Upshot: A master class in chemistry, creativity and the joy of making music for no other sake.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Being at the forefront of your profession is great, but exhausting. There’s a lot of pressure in being an innovator and a leading light for others to follow, and sometimes you just need to let your hair down. On Small Town, maverick jazz guitarist Bill Frisell does just that. Teaming up with bassist Thomas Morgan, Frisell sets up at the Village Vanguard for a relaxed session of duets, covers and originals.
The album begins, appropriately, with a stroll through Paul Motian’s “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago” – the two men worked together on the late drummer’s final session. Morgan lays out the groundwork so Frisell can skitter over it, making smart use of his loop pedal as he goes. From there the pair trips through several distinct wires, from the bebop of Lee Konitz’ “Subconscious Lee” and R&B of Fats Domino’s “What a Party” to the proto-bluegrass of the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and the iconic James Bond theme “Goldfinger.” Outside of others’ catalogs, Frisell contributes the title track, a twangy roll through Western Americana that first appeared in truncated form on his album Disfarmer, and the duo co-composes the sometimes playful/sometimes lovely “Poet – Pearl.” The pair also revisits the moody “Song For Andrew No. 1,” which Frisell contributed to last year’s Andrew Cyrille album The Declaration of Musical Independence.
Throughout Frisell is in top form, keeping his distinctive watery tone close to recognizable melody while still putting his own improvisational spin on the tunes. Morgan is well-versed in the accompaniment of iconoclasts, due to his work with Tomasz Stanko and David Virelles, not to mention partnering with other axeman like Jakob Bro, and he’s the perfect partner for Frisell here. His round, open tone and nimble fingerings don’t merely lay a foundation, but also provide counterpoint and an alternative voice for the guitarist to bounce off of. Small Town is a master class in chemistry, creativity and the joy of making music for no other sake.
DOWNLOAD: “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago,” “Subconscious Lee,” “Poet – Pearl”