Epistrophy (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016) Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan
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- 1All In Fun (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)08:36
- 2Wildwood Flower / Save The Last Dance For Me (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)09:35
- 3Mumbo Jumbo (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)08:03
- 4You Only Live Twice (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)08:09
- 5Lush Life (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)04:37
- 6Epistrophy (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)07:26
- 7Pannonica (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)07:07
- 8Red River Valley (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)08:09
- 9In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)06:55
Info for Epistrophy (Live At The Village Vanguard, New York, NY / 2016)
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.”
Bill Frisell, guitar
Thomas Morgan, double bass
In a career spanning more than 25 years and over 200 recordings, including 25 albums of his own, guitarist, composer, and bandleader Bill Frisell is now firmly established as a visionary presence in American music. He has collaborated with a wide range of artists, filmmakers and legendary musicians. But it is his work as a leader that has garnered increasing attention and accolades. The New York Times described Frisell’s music this way. “It's hard to find a more fruitful meditation on American music than in the compositions of guitarist Bill Frisell. Mixing rock and country with jazz and blues, he's found what connects them: improvisation and a sense of play. Unlike other pastichists, who tend to duck passion, Mr. Frisell plays up the pleasure in the music and also takes on another often-avoided subject, tenderness."
Frisell’s recordings over the last decades span a wide range of musical influences. His catalog, including over twenty recordings for Nonesuch, has been cited by Downbeat as “the best recorded output of the decade.” It includes original Buster Keaton film scores to arrangements of music for extended ensemble with horns (This Land, Blues Dream); adaptations of his compositions originally written as sound-tracks to Gary Larson cartoons (Quartet); interpretations of work by other classic and contemporary American composers (Have a Little Faith) ; and collaborations with the acclaimed rhythm section of bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Jim Keltner (Gone, Just Like a Train, Good Dog, Happy Man). Other releases include an album with Nashville musicians (Nashville), the solo album Ghost Town, an album of his arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach (The Sweetest Punch), a trio album with jazz legends Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, and a collection of American traditional songs and original compositions inspired by them entitled The Willies. The Intercontinentals, nominated for a Grammy in 2004 is an album that combines Frisell’s own brand of American roots music and his unmistakable improvisational style with the influences of Brazilian, Greek, and Malian sounds. His 2004 release, entitled Unspeakable, produced by Hal Wilner, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. East/West is a two CD set, featuring his two working trios recorded in concert on both coasts. Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian features two jazz legends that Bill considers among his true mentors and musical inspirations. His collaborative project Floratone (Blue Note) with drummer Matt Chamberlain and producers Lee Townsend & Tucker Martine, was described by All About Jazz as “a modern masterpiece.” History, Mystery was nominated for a Grammy award in Best Instrumental Jazz category, featuring an octet of strings, horns and rhythm section with some of his closest music collaborators exploring a fuller palette of compositional colors and timbres than any he has previously written for. “The whole album stands as yet another testament to the man's place at the very epicenter of modern American music." - BBC. The recent collection titled The Best of Bill Frisell, Vol 1: Folk Songs is the first in a series of compilations, this one drawn from Frisell's catalog spotlighting his idiosyncratic excursions into country and traditional folk. His latest album, “Disfarmer”, was inspired by the photographer Mike Disfarmer. It was described by the Houston Chronicle as follows: "Frisell's pacing is magnificent, and the album sweeps along with purpose like a gorgeous, spacious epic. It is full of sounds that suggest settings and characters, including the mysterious eccentric who inspired the recording."
Beginning in 2008, a trilogy of Frisell’s music DVD’s was released. First was Solos, shot in Toronto in high definition. Following in 2009, were the long awaited Films of Buster Keaton, Music By Bill Frisell featuring Frisell’s original trio, Kermit Driscoll on bass and Joey Baron on drums as well as Live From Montreal, shot at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2002 and featuring Matt Chamberlain on drums, Billy Drewes on alto saxophone, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Ron Miles on cornet and Greg Leisz on steel guitars. It showcases the music of Frisell’s celebrated album, Blues Dream.
In 2006, Frisell was named a USA Rasmuson Fellow and became a recipient of a grant offered by United States Artists, a privately funded organization dedicated to the support of America's finest living artists.