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Monday, May 29, 2017

Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Small Town (ECM, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I've always enjoyed guitarist Bill Frisell's duo work. His playing is always supportive, incisive, delicate, and persuasive, really everything a partner should be. Some collaborations that come to mind include his 1998 meet up with pianist Fred Hersch (Songs We Know), a 2006 rendezvous with Jack DeJohnette (The Elephant Sleeps but Still Remembers), his fascinating 1984 intersection with Tim Berne (Theoretically), and even his 1983 ECM debut In Line with bassist Arild Anderson. If I were to draw a similarity with Small Town, it would pass through all of these right back to the first one - the label and the instrumentation notwithstanding.

It's nice to see Frisell on ECM again (after the late 80s, he's been on the periphery, appearing on many albums) and in a duo with the prolific bassist Thomas Morgan, who, like Frisell, is quiet in person and exudes great warmth and humanity in his playing. Together they complete each other's musical sentences, hang off the ellipses, and have made an album that is at once trademark Frisell with its gentle questioning melodies and hints of American folk music, while sporting a hint of outside the line coloring hearkening back to compositions that appeared on albums like In-Line and the dissonant Americana laced This Land.

You don't quite know it until you hear the applause and glasses clink that Small Town was recorded live at the Village Vanguard in March of 2016. The sound is lovely and spacious, each note of the guitar rings clear and the use of dynamics are sublime, like on the tasty title track. The bassist fills the spaces between the guitarist's chords but not without creating his own moments of intrigue.

A thoroughly enjoyable album that pairs the master guitar-slinger with a more than up-and-coming and completely sympathetic bassist. Listening is like fulfilling a guilty pleasure without the guilt.