Epistrophy

Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan

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Like their acclaimed ECM release Small Town of 2017 – which The Guardian called “wistful and mesmerizing… tonally ingenious and haunting” – Epistrophy by guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan was recorded at New York City’s Village Vanguard. The new album once again captures the rare empathy these two players achieve together in this intimate environment. There are further poetic takes on pieces from the duo’s Americana songbook (“All in Fun,” “Red River Valley,” “Save the Last Dance for Me”), as well as another intense version of a composition by Paul Motian (“Mumbo Jumbo”), an artist whom both the guitarist and bassist knew well. Frisell and Morgan communicate the essence of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and the Frank Sinatra hit “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” so much so that the famous words seem to hang in the air even without a singer. At the center of the album is a pair of pieces by Thelonious Monk: the funky, angular “Epistrophy” and the ruminative ballad “Pannonica.” And as with “Goldfinger” on Small Town, Frisell and Morgan offer a glowing duo interpretation of a melody-rich John Barry title tune from a James Bond film – “You Only Live Twice.”
Wie ihre gefeierte ECM-Veröffentlichung Small Town 2017 – die der britische Guardian als "wehmütig und faszinierend… klanglich genial und eindringlich" bezeichnete – wurde Epistrophy von Gitarrist Bill Frisell und Bassist Thomas Morgan im New Yorker Jazzclub Village Vanguard aufgenommen.
Das neue Album fängt einmal mehr die rare Empathie ein, die diese beiden Musiker in dieser intimen Umgebung erreichen. Weitere poetische Takes gibt es aus dem Americana-Songbuch des Duos ("All in Fun", "Red River Valley", "Save the Last Dance for Me") sowie erneut eine intensive Version einer Komposition von Paul Motian ("Mumbo Jumbo"), einem Künstler, den der Gitarrist und der Bassist gut kannten. Frisell und Morgan vermitteln die Essenz von Billy Strayhorns "Lush Life" und dem Frank-Sinatra-Hit "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" so eindringlich, dass deren berühmte Texte auch ohne Sänger in der Luft zu liegen scheinen. Im Zentrum des Albums stehen zwei Stücke von Thelonious Monk: das funky, kantige "Epistrophy" und die grüblerische Ballade "Pannonica". Und wie bei "Goldfinger" auf Small Town bieten Frisell und Morgan erneut eine schillernde Duo-Interpretation eines melodiesatten John Barry-Titelsongs, diesmal aus dem James-Bond-Film – "You Only Live Twice".
Featured Artists Recorded

March 2016, Village Vanguard, New York

Original Release Date

12.04.2019

  • 1All In Fun
    (Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern)
    08:36
  • 2Wildwood Flower / Save The Last Dance For Me
    (Maud Irving, Joseph Philbrick Webster, Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman)
    09:35
  • 3Mumbo Jumbo
    (Paul Motian)
    08:03
  • 4You Only Live Twice
    (Leslie Bricusse, John Barry)
    08:09
  • 5Lush Life
    (Billy Strayhorn)
    04:37
  • 6Epistrophy
    (Thelonious Monk)
    07:26
  • 7Pannonica
    (Thelonious Monk)
    07:07
  • 8Red River Valley
    (Traditional)
    08:09
  • 9In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning
    (Bob Hilliard, David Mann)
    06:55
Throughout the set, Morgan’s empathic connection with Frisell is palpable. While there are passages where Morgan and Frisell take delineated solos, far more are spent in a kind of collective and egalitarian space where the music is more a conversation than anything else, and one that often moves in the most unpredictable directions.
John Kelman, All About Jazz
 
Guitarist Bill Frisell and double bassist Thomas Morgan first appeared as a duo on 2017’s ‘Small Town’. Recorded in 2016 at the Village Vanguard, it offered conversations in jazz, folk, R&B, and pop with an intimacy and improvisational elocution seldom matched in recordings cut with a live audience. ‘Epistrophy’ was culled from the same Vanguard run proving the earlier recording no fluke. […] ‘Epistrophy’ is a companion to ‘Small Town’, but it is also an extension of the intimate, communicative union shared by this duo in near symbiosis. Together they create a gold standard for live performance.
Thom Jurek, All Music
 
Owners of an immeasurable musicality, Frisell and Morgan embark on impeccable narrations of well-known gems, in a clear demonstration of their interactive dexterity. It’s mind-boggling how they put such a fresh spin in so many familiar songs, and all we want to do is play them over and over.
Felipe Freitas, Jazz Trail
 
Seinen Namen erhält das Album von Thelonious Monk, dessen ‚Epistrophy‘ und ‚Pannonica‘ ebenfalls zum Set gehören, und die Frisell ‚magisch‘ nennt. Magisch ist auch das Zusammenspiel zwischen Bill Frisell und Thomas Morgan. Wie die beiden immer wieder die Rolle tauschen, Melodie und Begleitung wechseln, die Ideen des anderen antizipieren und sich an Feinfühligkeit und Spielwitz überbieten, ist schlicht großartig. Humor und Empathie und tiefe Ehrfurcht vor den Idolen ist hier zu hören und produziert eine Musik, die zeitlos ist und vor allem gut tut.
Joachim Meißner, Sounds & Books
 
Magical stuff here from two musicians who are completely on another level with each other, and we, the listeners, are the recipients of their musical grandeur.
Pete Pardo, Sea of Tranquility
 
Recorded live at jazz shrine the Village Vanguard in New York peppered with Monk tunes as in the title track and a spread of other covers from Doc Pomus and Paul Motian to John Barry and Jerome Kern, Frisell is the dominant lead as you might expect and his quietly triumphant introversion draws out the quirky side of the tunes and lets the melodies breath set against his rickety harmonies and self-effacing charm. You get the sound of an appreciative audience, the feeling that this is a real concert via the fine album sound and you can almost sense the expectation of the Vanguard audience. Morgan has risen in recent years to become one of the most reliable bassists in progressive jazz settings and has an incredible sense of tone and poise and you get that on this record as well.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank
 
Schon auf ‚Small Town‘ fand sich mit ‚Goldfinger‘ eine Barry-Komposition, dazu kamen eigene Stücke, eine Lee Konitz-Komposition und eine Verbeugung vor Paul Motian. Der sieht sich auch auf ‚Epistrophy‘ wieder gewürdigt, den pop-fernen Kern von ‚Epistrophy‘ bilden aber zwei Stücke von Thelonius Monk und eine hinreißende Version von Billy Strayhorns ‚Lush Life‘. Doch am Ende verschwimmen die Grenzen: Motians verwinkeltes, komplexes ‚Mumbo Jumbo‘ steht neben dem unwiderstehlichen Sixties-Pop von ‚Save the Last Dance for Me‘ und der Abend endet mit der Lagerfeuer-Hymne ‚Red River Valley‘ und dem auf ewig mit Frank Sinatra verbundenen ‚In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning‘. Lektion gelernt: Unter den Händen von Frisell und Morgan wird aus all dem eine Kulturgeschichte Amerikas – sehr leise und voller Intensität.
Ralf Dorschel, Norddeutscher Rundfunk
 
Nur selten lassen Duo-Aufnahmen ein derart tiefes Einverständnis zweier Musiker spüren, wie dies Frisell und Morgan verbindet. Wie die zwei kommunizieren, wie sie die Gedanken des anderen aufgreifen, wie sie gleichzeitig improvisieren und sich nie verlieren, macht ‚Epistrophy‘ ebenso wie die Vorgängerdisc ‚Small Town‘ zu Highlights der Duo-Kunst.
Werner Stiefele, Rondo
 
A delicate sequel to this duo’s 2017 album ‘Small Town,’ this live recording from a couple of master musicians is another study in empathetic interplay. Led by Frisell’s clear, twang-dusted guitar and matched step-for-step by the rich bass ventures of Morgan, the spacious album touches on a brilliant mix of jazz classics by Thelonious Monk in the title track and ‘Pannonica,’ as well as delicate explorations of Americana standards like ‘Wildwood Flower’ and ‘Red River Valley.’ But maybe the most unexpected pleasure is John Barry’s ‘You Only Live Twice,’ whose cascading theme has rarely been handled so gently.
Chris Barton, L.A. Times
 
Was Frisell und Morgan auf ‘Epistrophy’ zum Besten geben, kommt dermaßen unprätentiös daher, dass es eine wahre Freude ist. Zwei Freunde, die einander nichts beweisen müssen. Hier geht es um die Essenz der einzelnen Stücke,  deren Seele und die Freiheit der Interpretation. Reduktion und Reharmonisierung als stilistische Mittel. So werfen sie sich die musikalischen Bälle zu, greifen Ideen, Motive, Fragmente auf, führen sie weiter, erschaffen Neues – und in diesem steten musikalischen Fluss voller Magie entstehen perlen der modernen Gitarrenliteratur.
Andreas Collet, Jazzthetik
 
In the hands of this duo, a song like ‚All In Fun‘ assumes a double meaning. While the pair are indeed enjoying  this musical experience, they bring an unforced profundity to the occasion.
Tyran Grillo, Downbeat
 
Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan impress mightily […] Their chemistry is undeniable, combing through a wide range of choice material, and adding their names to the list of great guitar/bass duos.  The album is easily on par with a certifiable classic as Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden’s ‘Beyond The Missouri Sky (Short Stories)’ (Verve, 1997) where a wide variety of colors are explored.
CJ Shearn, Jazz Views
 
Admirers of Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan’s super 2017 album ‘Small Town’ will be delighted with this sequel. Performed during the same residency at the Village Vanguard club in New York, it has the American guitar and bass duo, right, again demonstrating their exceptional symbiosis. […] yet it is the ballad playing that lingers: the shyly charming ‘All in Fun’, a quietly triumphant ‘Lush Life’ and ‘In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning’, on which Frisell and Morgan become one in a spell of sublime solitude.
Chris Pearson, The Times
 
S’emparant avec un mélange d’ingénuité gourmande et de subtile distanciation onirique de ce repertoire aussi riche que disparate, les deux hommes nous embarquent das une sorte de déambulation poétique au cœur d’une Amérique œcuménique fantasmée, démontrant à chaque instant une complicité esthètique réjouissante. […] les relectures particulièrement intenses et inspires des deux pèpites monkiennes qui constituent le vrai temps fort de cette heure de musique, figurant incontestablement parmi les plus belles choses enregistrés par Frisell ces derniéres années.
Stéphane Ollivier, Jazz Magazine
 
Dieses Duo-Album […] ist einfach nur von fulminanter Schönheit, großer narrativer Kraft und einer zwielichtigen Stimmung wie in einem Film Noir.
Wolf Kampmann, Eclipsed
 
Nights to remember. Müssen es im März ’16 gewesen sein, denn selbst an so ruhmreicher Stätte wie dem Village Vanguard passieren derlei kompakte Begegnungen nicht allzu oft. Begegnungen wie jene zwischen dem Gitarristen Bill Frisell und dem Kontrabassisten Thomas Morgan. Relative Kälte draußen, die Märznächte geraden in New York gern chilly, drinnen aber maximale Wärmeerzeugung, die sich aus der herzlichen Zuneigung der Duopartner speist. Ein Gleichtakt ohnegleichen. […] wieder hat man zu staunen über das Gleichmaß der Bewegungen beider Protagonisten, über deren alles und jedes weitende, in sich ruhende Haltung.
Adam Olschewski, Jazzpodium
 
‘Epistrophy’ is a glowing collection of songs that are explored with meticulous sensitivity. With some connective elements to 2017’s ‘Small Town’, this album is on some levels a companion piece, but in true jazz historical perspective a deeper tapestry.
Robbie Gerson, Audiophile Audition
 
Nach einer guten Stunde exzellenter Duo-Improvisationen über zeitlose Melodien – immer nah am Original, aber mit einem Füllhorn an brillanten Ideen veredelt – freut man sich schon, den relaxt groovenden Opener ‚All In Fun‘ von Kern/Hammerstein II nochmals zu hören und ist verblüfft, welch neue Aspekte sich einem – nachdem man sich in den Duo-Sound einmal eingehört hat – bei einem weiteren Durchlauf eröffnen.
Peter Füßl, Kultur
 
Frisell and Morgan are a dream duo, never sounding ‘tight’ but always connected. Brilliant and gorgeous.
Rick Anderson, CD-Hotlist
 
Mit seiner Gitarre ist Bill Frisell ein wunderbarer Geschichtenerzähler. Gemeinsam mit Thomas Morgan am Kontrabass kommt so keine Sekunde Langeweile auf. Im Dialog lassen die beiden die Funken nur so sprühen. Die Live-Atmosphäre aus dem Jazz-Club Village Vanguard setzt der Aufnahme dann das Sahne-Häubchen auf. Man hört nicht nur zu – man ist mittendrin dabei.
Georg Waßmuth, Südwestrundfunk
 
Dass ausweislich der Booklet-Fotos Bill Frisell neben einer Telecaster auch eine klassische, semi-akustische Jazzgitarre spielt, ist nur ein Grund unter vielen, seinen filigranen, gelegentlich von zartem Effektgeräte-Einsatz modulierten Lines mit spitzen Ohren zu folgen. Wie er etwa in Slow-Motion jeden Ton von Billy Strayhorns ‚Lush Life‘ auskostet, wozu Thomas Morgan pointierte Single Notes setzt, ist ein hochmusikalisches Erlebnis von stupender Eleganz. Im Kontrast dazu entfaltet Monks ‚Epistrophy‘ durch den lässig schnurrenden Walking Bass eine aufregend groovige Klangpracht, die von der Gitarre mit dem nur punktuell aufblitzenden Thema hinreißend garniert wird.
Sven Thielmann, Fono Forum
 
Every seasoned jazz listener knows Thelonious Monk’s ‘Epistrophy’, a jazz classic that’s been around forever. Here, Bill Frisell (guitar) and Thomas Morgan (double bass) begin with what sounds like isolated random notes. The notes become melodic fragments that gradually grow together, revealing tantalising, Monkish hints until, finally, ‘Epistrophy’ itself emerges. As an improvised duet, that’s not just clever, it’s brilliant. Frisell loves a melody. Somehow, he always manages to cast it in a new and unexpected light, without missing its essential charm, and in Morgan he has the perfect companion. The other eight tunes on this album include two by Monk, a few standards, a couple of very old American songs and the theme from a Bond movie. It’s a curious mixture, but by no means a job lot. […]  And it all comes across in the bell-like clarity of Frisell’s guitar and the firm, woody texture of Morgan’s bass.
Dave Gelly, Observer
 
Natürlich greifen Frisell und Morgan auch die alten Zeiten der Countrymusik auf und sogar Frisells Dauerliebling ‘Wildwood Flower’ taucht auf. Die Kunst des Duos besteht aber eben darin, jedem Liedgut Großes zu entlocken, immer wieder Neues zu entwerfen, Melodien zum Schweben zu bringen, egal, woher sie kommen. Ein Drifters-Klassiker in E-Dur zum Mitwippen steht hier auf gleicher Stufe mit dem vertrackten Thema von Motians ‚Mumbo Jumbo‘ und der strahlenden Klarheit von Monks ‚Pannonica‘. Für einen Dialog, wie ihn Frisell und Morgan führen, braucht es einfach keine Grenzen.  
Uli Lemke, Jazzthing
 
This is Frisell in his purest, Johnny Smith mode: a tone to die for and a collaborator in Morgan who is mindful of each and every Frisellian twist, turn and harmonic finesse. […] the pair are particularly fine Monk masters, notably on the title-track: unlike so many they don’t play up the ‘quirkiness’, but revel in the damn fine tune: Frisell even squeezes in a rock’n’roll flavour which would’ve had Monk doing one of his little dances. Classic indeed: but nary a note of nostalgia.
Andy Robson, Jazzwise
 
Two years ago, ECM released ‘Small Town’, a collection of duo performances by guitarist Bill Frisell and double bassist Thomas Morgan. Recorded in March 2016 at the Village Vanguard, the album’s eight tracks drew songs from different genres — jazz, rock, country, film soundtracks — to create a wonderful example of two musicians intimately communicating with and bringing out each other’s best. ECM has now released a second collection from that series of Vanguard dates, but ‘Epistrophy’ doesn’t feel like a collection of leftovers. If anything, it’s a stronger argument for continued dialogue between these two great musicians. […] ’Epistrophy’ balances moments of tender beauty and melodic complexity. With this album and ‘Small Town’, Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan establish themselves as one of jazz’s great duos.
Joseph Taylor, Soundstage Ultra
Like the duo’s acclaimed ECM release Small Town of 2017 – which The Guardian called “wistful and mesmerizing… tonally ingenious and haunting” – the new Epistrophy by guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan was recorded at New York City’s Village Vanguard. The album once again captures the rare empathy these two players achieve in this intimate environment. There are poetic takes on pieces from the duo’s beloved Americana songbook (“All in Fun,” “Red River Valley,” “Save the Last Dance for Me”), as well as an intense version of a composition by Paul Motian (“Mumbo Jumbo”), an artist whom both the guitarist and bassist knew well. Frisell and Morgan communicate the essence of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and the Frank Sinatra hit “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” so much so that their famous words seem to hang in the air even without a singer. At the center of the album is a pair of pieces by Thelonious Monk: the funky, angular “Epistrophy” and the ruminative ballad “Pannonica.” And as with “Goldfinger” on Small Town, Frisell and Morgan offer a glowing duo interpretation of a melody-rich John Barry title tune from a James Bond film – “You Only Live Twice.”
 
Frisell made his debut as a leader for ECM in 1983 with In Line, establishing one of the most distinctive sounds of any modern guitarist. His rich history with the label also includes multiple recordings by the iconic cooperative trio with Paul Motian and Joe Lovano, culminating in Time and Time Again in 2007. Morgan, who also performed and recorded with Motian, has appeared on ECM as bassist of choice for Tomasz Stanko, Craig Taborn, Jakob Bro, David Virelles, Giovanni Guidi and Masabumi Kikuchi. One of the bonds Frisell and Morgan share is the connection with Motian and his music. Small Town included a tribute to Motian in the form of a searching, 11-minute interpretation of the late drummer’s composition “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago.” On Epistrophy, the duo features “Mumbo Jumbo,” a very different sort of Motian composition. “It’s one of Paul’s denser, more abstract pieces,” Frisell explains. “But as with all of Paul’s tunes, you play the melody of ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ and it puts you in this special world, where every note suggests all these possibilities. Thomas and I are right there together in this music. I had played ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ with Paul and Joe, but Thomas showed me things in the piece I didn’t realize were there.”
 
A discovery for many listeners will be the beauty of “You Only Live Twice” in a jazz context. “John Barry’s music was one of those things I took for granted as a kid in the ’60s,” Frisell recalls. “I didn’t necessarily take it seriously, even if I liked it when I heard it in a James Bond movie. But I have revelations about music I overlooked all the time, as I develop a deeper understanding about what music really is. If you strip away the pop-culture associations of a tune like ‘You Only Live Twice,’ as with ‘Goldfinger,’ you’re left with these beautiful chords and melodies. So, in the stripped-down context of the duo, we’re trying to get at the essence of this music. I’ve been pretty obsessive about the sources of pieces, trying to understand all the little details – like in the orchestrations of the John Barry tunes. Thomas is an ideal partner for that, as he has a way of getting at all the inner parts.”
 
Frisell has long been a prime exponent of the Americana repertoire in improvised music, a fascination he shares with Morgan. It was the bassist who suggested the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein composition “All in Fun” and the Drifters’ 1960 soul hit “Save the Last Dance for Me” (the latter of which includes an intro from the folk tune “Wildwood Flower,” a Frisell favorite). “Bill and I starting playing ‘All in Fun’ from our first set as a duo,” Morgan says. “It’s originally from Very Warm for May, the same 1939 Broadway musical that included ‘All the Things You Are.’ The lyrics start by sounding callous, but then turn out to be heartfelt. The music matches the words, with a sharp ninth scale degree in the opening phrase that’s resolved to the major third by the end. So much warmth comes through Bill’s sound that he just seems perfect for the song. The Drifters’ record of ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ is a classic. It’s amazing that the song only uses the three most common chords, but the melody is full of suspensions that feel natural and melodic while they’re making the harmonies richer. Maybe that’s also why it feels good to accompany it in a simple way. That and the fact that Bill is right there keeping the rhythm going and playing the melody with the nuances of a singer.”
 
When it comes to Americana tunes – like the traditional folk song “Red River Valley,” also featured on Epistrophy – Frisell was initiated into their possibilities as jazz repertoire by Sonny Rollins. “Sonny was a beacon, playing a tune like ‘I’m an Old Cowhand’ – which he probably heard in a movie when he was a kid – with respect and affection,” the guitarist says. “One of the first jazz LPs I ever bought was his Way Out West, and it was like a light turning on for me. Later, I got into Gary Burton’s band with Larry Coryell, and they played Bob Dylan and country tunes. The musicians I’m drawn to most are those who don’t have some over-simplified hierarchy of musical worth where a folk song doesn’t have the same value as something more complicated. There can be a real depth to that music.”
 
Two other tracks on Epistrophy come from the realm of late-night, lonely-heart ballads: Billy Strayhorn’s iconic “Lush Life” and the signature Frank Sinatra number “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Frisell recalls the Sinatra song as something else that he didn’t appreciate fully when he was younger. “A record like that would’ve seemed as if it belonged to my parents’ generation, but then I’d read where Miles Davis dug Sinatra’s phrasing on that and it’s like, ‘Oh, I have to check this out,’ with the beauty of it finally revealing itself to me. But when it comes to a song like ‘Lush Life,’ that’s something I’ve tried to play for years and years – it can be intimidating, the legacy of it. It’s heavy, whether you hear the recording of Strayhorn singing it himself in a bar or you listen to the famous Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane record. Again, it has just been a process of trying to get to the essence of the song, to play what he really wrote.”
 
The heart of Epistrophy belongs to Thelonious Monk, with the title track and the ballad “Pannonica,” tunes Frisell calls “magical.” The cover painting – by the late Charles Cajori, part of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists – is also titled Epistrophy. Cajori was a friend of Frisell’s parents, a hip, jazz-inspired figure who, whenever he visited Denver, would tell a wide-eyed Frisell about seeing the likes of Miles and Monk at the Vanguard. “He talked with me like an adult, even though I was just a little boy in Colorado,” the guitarist recalls. “What he said stuck with me. Decades later, I looked him up – he was teaching at the New York Studio School. I wrote him a letter telling him how much those conversations meant to me. We got together and became close in his later years, and we talked about him being friends with Morton Feldman and seeing Monk with Coltrane at the Five Spot, all that great stuff again. That’s when he told me about this painting he had done called Epistrophy. It means a lot to me that we could use it on the cover of this album.”
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