Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy (ECM)
As in their 2017 ECM release Small Town, guitarist Frisell and bassist Morgan are captivating in their exploration of pieces whose variety extends from the harmonic challenges of Thelonious Monk to the deceptive simplicity of “Red River Valley.” This second installment was also recorded at the duo’s 2016 appearance at New York’s Village Vanguard. I write “deceptive” in reaction to their approach to “Red River Valley” because they generate power and blues feeling that have been beneath the song’s surface for the century or more since it first appeared in Canada. Those elements have been tapped by genre singers like Marty Robbins and Stevie Nicks, but with their jazz sensibility Frisell and Morgan go far deeper into the song’s harmonic possibilities.
When they come to the album’s two Monk pieces, “Epistrophy” and “Pannonica,” the interaction and serious listening to one another take on even more concentrated energy. That power does not flag—if anything it increases—in the late drummer Paul Motian’s “Mumbo Jumbo,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning,” the concluding ballad.” This is an album whose chief characteristic may on first hearing seem to be pleasantness. But early on, during Frisell’s and Morgan’s development of the opening “All In Fun” by Jerome Kern, it demands and rewards close llistening.