Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan's Small Town on ECM

At this point in his hugely varied and successful career it's tempting to pull out the old cliché and rhetorically ask, "Is there anything Bill Frisell can't do?"

Initially tagged as a jazz cat, guitarist Frisell has moved far beyond that and shown remarkable ability in musical genres as widely diverse as surf guitar and Americana. On Small Town, his latest album, a program of duets with bassist Thomas Morgan recorded live at the Village Vanguard in NYC and produced by the founder, owner, and visionary behind ECM Records, Manfred Eicher, Frisell again shows his affinity for American roots music. Recorded in March 2016, the album was mixed in December 2016 at Avatar Studios in NYC by Frisell, Morgan, Eicher, and ECM’s longtime New York engineer Jim Farber.

His simple but indelibly right take on "Wildwood Flower," one of the most well-known songs in the Mother Maybelle Carter oeuvre is wonderful. Having started out in garage bands, Frisell, unlike a lot of players that are labeled "jazz," knows how to improvise around but also play a melody straight. Shifting gears, he and bassist Thomas Morgan slide into another strain of Americana when they reinvent the great New Orleans songwriter and arranger Dave Bartholomew's "What A Party." Here it's Morgan who adds not only the crucial textures but also the rhythmic bounce necessary for this goodtime NOLA party tune to have its requisite swing. John Barry's theme to the James Bond film, "Goldfinger," is also Frisell-ized into yet another journey of impromptu sonic discovery. On the title track, a Frisell original that is premiered below on Stereophile.com, he uses a Spaghetti Western feel to great effect.

Tones and textures are the key to his uber-flavorful playing. For tone he prefers an unadorned, effectless sound that allows him to play with the resonances and sustain. As for textures, you could actually turn that into a verb, texturing, and use it instead of playing. He's a master of layering and tempo and unerring choices. Perhaps a bit too samey in approach for newcomers to his music, this is Frisell adding yet again to his ever growing, ever impressive legacy.

COMMENTS
monetschemist's picture

Is it a Martin of some kind, with pickups? an SG? so pure and clean sounding. Wow wow wow.

Allen Fant's picture

Instant purchase! RB.

Scintilla's picture

Really, I can't not like any of his work. One time, at bandcamp (it was the Tractor Tavern actually) I spun around too fast and nearly knocked his drink from of his hand. He was really gracious. Another time I accidentally intruded on his green room space at another venue at a really inappropriate moment. That was really awkward. Needless to say, Bill is a star and also pretty gracious. He can also play.