Small Town

Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan

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Small Town presents guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan in a program of duets, the poetic chemistry of their playing captured live at New York’s hallowed Village Vanguard. Frisell made his debut as a leader for ECM in 1983 with the similarly intimate In Line. The guitarist’s rich history with the label also includes multiple recordings by his iconic cooperative trio with Paul Motian and Joe Lovano, culminating in Time and Time Again in 2007. Small Town begins with 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,” the duo’s counterpoint yielding a hushed power. Morgan has appeared on several ECM albums of late, as bassist of choice for Tomasz Stanko, Jakob Bro, David Virelles, Giovanni Guidi and Masabumi Kikuchi. Small Town sees Frisell and Morgan pay homage to jazz elder Lee Konitz with his “Subconscious Lee,” and there are several country/blues-accented Frisell originals, including the hauntingly melodic title track. The duo caps the set with an inimitable treatment of John Barry’s famous James Bond theme “Goldfinger.”
Small Town präsentiert den Gitarristen Bill Frisell und den Bassisten Thomas Morgan mit einem Programm aus Duetten – die poetische Qualität ihres Zusammenspiels wurde live im New Yorker ‚Village Vanguard‘ eingefangen. Frisell hatte sein ECM-Debüt bereits 1983 mit dem ähnlich intimen  Album In Line gegeben. Zur reichhaltigen Geschichte des Gitarristen mit dem Label gehört eine Reihe von Trio-Aufnahmen mit Paul Motian und Joe Lovano, mit dem Album Time and Time Again von 2007 als Höhepunkt. Small Town beginnt mit einem Tribut an Motian – in Form einer 11-minütigen, tiefgründigen Interpretation der von dem verstorbenen Schlagzeuger geschriebenen Komposition ‚It Should’ve Happened  a Long Time Ago‘, in der das kontrapunktische Spiel des Duos subtile Kraft entfaltet.
Morgan ist zuletzt auf diversen ECM-Alben zu hören gewesen, als Bassist der Wahl für Tomasz Stanko, Jakob Bro, David Virelles, Giovanni Guidi und Masabumi Kikuchi. Auf Small Town zollen Frisell und Morgan dem Jazz-Altmeister Lee Konitz mit einer Version von dessen „Subcionscous Lee“ Tribut. Zudem gibt es hier einige Country-Blues-inspirierte Frisell-Kompositionen, darunter das eindringlich melodiöse Titelstück. Das Duo beschließt den Set mit einer unnachahmlichen Version von John Barrys berühmtem James-Bond-Filmsong „Goldfinger“.
Featured Artists Recorded

December 2015, Birdland, New York

Original Release Date

26.05.2017

  • 1It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago
    (Paul Motian)
    11:05
  • 2Subconscious Lee
    (Lee Konitz)
    07:31
  • 3Song For Andrew No. 1
    (Bill Frisell)
    09:35
  • 4Wildwood Flower
    (Joseph Philbrick Webster, Maud Irving)
    05:08
  • 5Small Town
    (Bill Frisell)
    08:57
  • 6What A Party
    (Dave Bartholomew, Pearl King)
    06:41
  • 7Poet - Pearl
    (Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan)
    12:04
  • 8Goldfinger
    (John Barry, Leslie Bricusse)
    07:01
A Zen master of the rootsy reverie, the American guitarist Bill Frisell is easy to pigeonhole. Yet his underlying diversity has never been more emphatically demonstrated than in this club recording from the Village Vanguard in New York. It’s just him and the bass player Thomas Morgan, yet the range of moods is seemingly as limitless as the Midwest horizon his rustic reverb often evokes. […] Pared down to its vulnerable essence, Frisell’s unique fusion of quiet contemplation, emotional complexity and gentle Americana has never been more appealing.
Chris Pearson, The Times
 
Morgan is a deeply intuitive player with a glorious earthy, woody tone. He anchors Frisell’s more speculative tendencies, allowing the unexpected (and perhaps previously undiscovered) room to emerge and hold its ground between them with the seams showing. ‘Small Town’ is an excellent showcase for this duo; here’s hoping it’s only a first volley.
Thom Jurek, All Music
 
Although he’s collaborated with dozens of diverse artists throughout his career, guitarist Bill Frisell is still somewhat picky about whom he chooses to work with. He requires a rapport that is both simpatico and challenging – no sense playing with someone unless they’re going to take him some place new. He’s one of the most adaptable, open minded musicians around, at his most fertile when he’s plugged directly into other sharp minds. Thomas Morgan, the double bassist who shares this live-at-the-Village-Vanguard session, is a good fit. He’s understated, never in the way and savvy enough to serve as a solid support to Frisell’s frugal precision.
Jeff Tamarkin, Jazz Times
 
Thomas Morgan und er selbst seien sich in einem gleich, stellt Bill Frisell fest: Sie seien beide ruhige Persönlichkeiten. Ihr Duo-Album, benannt nach Frisells Nummer ‚Small Town‘, bezeugt diese Einschätzung mit jedem Ton, und es lässt noch mehr erkennen: Der Kontrabassist Morgan und der Gitarrist Frisell verstehen sich blindlings. Der im März 2016 entstandene Konzertmitschnitt aus dem New Yorker Jazzclub Village Vanguard vereint zwei Musiker, die mit ihren Instrumenten so homogen kommunizieren, dass sich aus den Melodien und Akkorden des einen nahtlos Antworten und Ergänzungen des anderen ergeben: ein Traum von gelungener Zusammenarbeit.
Werner Stiefele, Rondo
 
Whether sonically reinventing chamber strings music or applying avant-improv to bluegrass and early rock, guitar pioneer Bill Frisell keeps on making music that could only be his. Another case in point: this almost psychically empathic duo set with New York bassist Thomas Morgan. […] Morgan’s quick anticipations of Frisell’s moves give their conversations a startling buoyancy; the weave of bell-like harmonics, quiet electronics and folk-blues figures is mesmerising on the Paul Motian tribute ‘It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago’; Frisell’s ‘Song for Andrew’ is like a Nina Rota movie theme; and the title track is wistful country-rock that drifts into haunting, ever-mobile dissonances. It all sounds as natural as talking or singing.
John Fordham, The Guardian
 
‚It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago‘ denkt man sich anhand des exquisiten Ergebnisses, so heißt zugleich aber auch die als Opener fungierende Paul Motian-Komposition – bei der letzten Produktion des 2011 verstorbenen legendären Schlagzeugers und Bandleaders waren auch Frisell und Morgan dabei. […] In der Tat harmonieren die beiden dermaßen perfekt und inspirieren sich wechselseitig in einem Maße, wie dies zuletzt Charlie Haden und Pat Metheny vor zwanzig Jahren auf ‚Beyond The Missouri Sky‘ taten. Nur finde ich persönlich Frisell/Morgan wesentlich spannender!
Peter Füssl, Kultur
 
Ob dezidiert jazzig wie beim spontan intonierten ‘Subconscious Lee’ für den im Publikum sitzenden Lee Konitz oder Folk-selig ‘Wildwood Flower’ erntend – stets beeindrucken die fühlbar vom genius loci inspirierten Pasticcios durch die heitere Gelassenheit, mit der sie ihre zehn Saiten zu wundersam singenden Zauberklängen verweben – einfach traumhaft.
Sven Thielmann, HiFi & Records
 
First of all, and as one might expect with the legendary Village Vanguard club, the sound is at once warm and intimate and lends itself perfectly to a bass-guitar pairing, with Frisell deploying a Gibson semi-acoustic guitar to wonderful effect. Secondly, the eclectic repertoire embraces the whole of Frisell’s career and offers up the odd surprise or two. Who would have expected, for example, an interpretation of that staple Bond theme, ‘Goldfinger’, yet Frisell and Morgan pull it off, with the latter creating a lovely bass line underneath the main theme and Frisell going off on tangents as only he knows how. So compelling a reading is this that it is every bit as punchy as the original brass orchestrations of the Shirley Bassey version, with marvellous improvising on a riff towards the end by Frisell and repetition of that same riff. […] In general, the telepathic rapport between Frisell and Morgan and supportive bass lines throughout significantly enhances the listener’s experience, and Thomas Morgan is to be commended for adding such depth to this performance. One of the year’s very best recordings for sure.
Tim Stenhouse, UK Vibe
 
Was hier live im New Yorker Jazz-Gral Village Vanguard aufgenommen wurde, ist eine der Sternstunden der aktuellen Gitarrenrenaissance im Jazz. Intuitiv geführte Dialoge hört man, saitenweise in einen milden Fluss gegossen, schön und immer schöner. […] Die sanften Klangmalereien sind wie leuchtende Aquarelle, hingebreitet mit immensem spielerischen Können.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Leipziger Volkszeitung
Small Town presents guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan in a program of duets, captured live at New York’s Village Vanguard. Frisell made his debut as a leader for ECM in 1983 with the similarly intimate In Line, establishing one of the most distinctive sounds of any modern guitarist. Frisell’s rich history with the label also includes multiple recordings with Paul Motian culminating in Time and Time Again in 2007. Small Town begins with 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,” the duo’s counterpoint yielding a hushed power. Morgan, who also played with Motian, has appeared on ECM as bassist of choice for Tomasz Stanko, Jakob Bro, David Virelles, Giovanni Guidi and Masabumi Kikuchi.
 
Frisell first met the California-born Morgan through Joey Baron in the 1990s, when the bassist was “very impressive, even though he was still a kid, basically,” recalls the guitarist. “Later, we played together at a session led by drummer Kenny Wollesen. In the midst of all this action there, I heard this bass note that just felt so present and right – even though Thomas was 40 or 50 feet away from me in a big studio. It struck me. And we played together again at Paul Motian’s last session, so it’s special that we both have this connection to Paul and his music. I asked Thomas to sit in with some of my groups, 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.
 
“Thomas and I are also similar in that we’re both quiet personalities,” Frisell continues. “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.”
 
“It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago,” the opener for Small Town, had its studio debut on the 1985 ECM album of the same name by the trio of Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. When Frisell and Morgan played the piece at the Vanguard, “the spirit of Paul seemed to hover over us,” Frisell says. “There’s a singing quality to Paul’s music. It’s not like math – it comes from an almost vocal place. The song is deceptively simple, just the melody and one chord, basically; but it conjures this atmosphere that you can really move around in. It’s like a structure without walls; it doesn’t box you in. It’s magical to me, and moving.”
 
 Frisell and Morgan also paid homage to two living jazz icons at the Vanguard, playing Konitz’s “Subconscious Lee” and Frisell’s melody-rich original “Andrew Cyrille,” dedicated to the titular drummer. The guitarist has worked with Konitz on multiple occasions (including Kenny Wheeler’s 1997 ECM album Angel Song), and the saxophonist was in the audience at the Vanguard when Frisell and Morgan recorded Small Town. The duo pulled out his bebop “Subconscious Lee” of 1949 as an impromptu tribute. “Andrew Cyrille” made its debut in different form as “Song for Andrew” on the drummer’s ECM album of last year, The Declaration of Musical Independence, which featured Frisell. “Andrew is a real elder of the music, his experience going all the way back to Coleman Hawkins and then onto Cecil Taylor through today. There’s a lot of music running through guys like Andrew and Lee.”
 
Guitaristically, “Small Town” has its basis in the playing of Maybelle Carter of The Carter Family, an exemplar of American country music in the 1920s and ’30s. “Maybelle Carter has been a big influence on me,” Frisell notes. “Actually, she’s a big influence on most non-classical guitar players, whether they know it or not, with that way of playing melody and rhythm simultaneously.” The guitarist makes another nod to The Carter Family on Small Town by playing the folk tune “Wildwood Flower,” made famous by the group.
 
A different sort of classic American music is symbolized by Fats Domino’s “What a Party,” an off-kilter example of New Orleans rock’n’roll that Frisell and Morgan recast in a pointillistic way at the Vanguard, at the bassist’s suggestion. “I think it’s a tune that belies the composer’s craft, giving the impression it was discovered rather than composed,” Morgan says. “The opening bass line is ingeniously simple, and the melody has a vocal quality. It wouldn’t seem to lend itself to being played instrumentally, but Bill is the perfect person to do it. His sound is as expressive as a voice, and he weaves the rhythmic and vocal parts together so that you somehow hear more than what’s being played.”
 
 Small Town also includes “Poet – Pearl,” a Morgan original bolstered with a Frisell intro. “It was one of my very first compositions,” Morgan says. “I came up with the melody for ‘Pearl’ on the subway when I was in my first year at school in New York. Talking about how I wrote it and the title, Bill pointed out that a pearl is rare and beautiful and takes an element of chance to find, like that piece in a way. I think those words have nice connotations not only for the song but also for our collaboration.” The duo rounds off their album with a totem from Frisell’s youth, “Goldfinger.” He recalls: “The atmosphere of that song takes me back to the early 1960s, when I was first getting fired up about playing the guitar, but also when I was learning to drive, doing things like going to downtown Denver on a date to see a James Bond movie. The music itself is so cool, with some pretty amazing things going on in the melody and harmony. Because the tune became so popular, you can miss some of the deeper musical things going on – they become almost subliminal.”
 
 Reflecting on the Vanguard and the experience of making Small Town, Frisell concludes: “Even though I’ve played ‘It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago’ what must be hundreds and hundreds of times, it always feels different somehow. I mean, it’s the same melody, the same song, but it’s not fixed – it lives. The music lives beyond Paul, just as it will live past us. The Vanguard, too – the notes keep resonating off the walls there, night after night. The listeners down through the years are part of that. They were there with us, as they were for Bill Evans or John Coltrane. Now the music we played on that night is on a record for more people to listen to, the notes resonating further. It’s incredible if you think about it.”
 
YEAR DATE VENUE LOCATION
2024 July 19 Molde Jazz Festival Molde, Norway