Music

Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan, and Their Unorthodox Cover Choices on 'Epistrophy'

Photo: Monica Frisell / Courtesy of the artist

Guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan give us another quiet night at the Vanguard by way of the ECM label.

Epistrophy
Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan

ECM

12 April 2019

Just as the Bill Evans trio had split a weekend's worth of gigs into the two live albums Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan have divvied their Village Vanguard sets into the companion albums Small Town and Epistrophy. Both feature Paul Motian tunes, both include John Barry covers from James Bond films, and both were released on the ECM label. If Small Town did something for you, then so will Epistrophy. The same holds true for the opposite scenario. The two albums, while not exactly interchangeable, share a great deal with one another below the skin-deep level. Frisell's fretboard approach to jazz and Americana hasn't changed a great deal over the past 25 years or so. Morgan, meanwhile, brings the complimentary shading that enables Frisell to act as an Evans/Coltrane mutant while still sounding like no one but himself.

Much like Miles Davis, the Frisell and Morgan duo have an open-minded approach to selecting cover material. Show tunes? Why not. They've got Kern and Hammerstein's "All in Fun" ready for you. A soul hit from the 1960s? They got that covered too with the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me". And Frisell's Americana itch gets scratched with "Red River Valley" and the Carter Family's "Wildwood Flower", the latter being welded to the Drifters cover in a medley.

Then there's "Lush Life" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning", two old standards from two very different worlds of popular music that must rarely find themselves cohabitating on a single album. Then there are the two Thelonious Monk covers, one of which was the inspiration for not only the album's title but its cover art as well. Bill Frisell's family were well-acquainted with the painter Charles Cajori when he was growing up, and he somehow secured the rights to use his painting Epistrophy for his this album.

The other Monk cover in question is "Pannonica", a light, airy number that stands in sharp contrast to the loopy melody of "Epistrophy" with its leap-frogging tri-tones. The only time Frisell's playing becomes a little strange is on the Paul Motian original "Mumbo Jumbo". Halfway through, he turns on an effect that adds digitally ghostly overtones to the notes that he's playing. To his credit, Thomas Morgan has also performed with Motian in the past and Frisell credits him for "show[ing] me things in the piece I didn't realize were there". How that plays into what you're hearing here, I'm not certain, but anything that brings new life to an old piece certainly can't be misguided.

Epistrophy is a soft, intimate album where all of the subtleties are buried at the earbud level. The Village Vanguard audience is quiet and respectful during the performances and even restrain themselves during the applause, with the exception of when "You Only Live Twice" wraps up. Then, everyone gets loud. It's not exactly a rockin' rendition, but Frisell's use of reverb coupled with a full-bodied tone must have done something to those New York folk to get such a response out of them. For them, Epistrophy is a worthy keepsake. For everyone else, Epistrophy and Small Town are exquisitely produced footnotes tucked inside a long career.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Nazis, Nostalgia, and Critique in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'

Arriving amidst the exhaustion of the past (21st century cultural stagnation), Waititi locates a new potential object for the nostalgic gaze with Jojo Rabbit: unpleasant and traumatic events themselves.

Television

Why I Did Not Watch 'Hamilton' on Disney+

Just as Disney's Frozen appeared to deliver a message of 21st century girl power, Hamilton hypnotizes audiences with its rhyming hymn to American exceptionalism.

Music

LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.

Books

'Dancing After TEN' Graphic Memoir Will Move You

Art dances with loss in the moving double-memoir by comics artists Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, Dancing After TEN.

Music

Punk Rock's WiiRMZ Rage at the Dying of the Light on 'Faster Cheaper'

The eight songs on WiiRMZ's Faster Cheaper are like a good sock to the jaw, bone-rattling, and disorienting in their potency.

Music

Chris Stamey Paints in "A Brand-New Shade of Blue" (premiere + interview)

Chris Stamey adds more new songs for the 20th century with his latest album, finished while he was in quarantine. The material comes from an especially prolific 2019. "It's like flying a kite and also being the kite. It's a euphoric time," he says.

Music

Willie Nelson Surveys His World on 'First Rose of Spring'

Country legend Willie Nelson employs his experience on a strong set of songs to take a wide look around him.

Music

Gábor Lázár Is in Something of a Holding Pattern on 'Source'

Experimental electronic artist Gábor Lázár spins his wheels with a new album that's intermittently exciting but often lacking in variety.

Music

Margo Price Is Rumored to Be the New Stevie Nicks

Margo Price was marketed as country rock because of her rural roots. But she was always more rock than country, as one can hear on That's How Rumors Get Started.

Music

DMA'S Discuss Their Dancier New Album 'The Glow'

DMA'S lead-singer, Tommy O'Dell, discusses the band's new album The Glow, and talks about the dancier direction in their latest music.

Music

The Bacon Brothers Deliver Solemn Statement With "Corona Tune" (premiere + interview)

Written and recorded during the 2020 quarantine, "Corona Tune" exemplifies the Bacon Brothers' ability to speak to the gravity of the present moment.

Music

Garage Rockers the Bobby Lees Pay Tribute to "Wendy" (premiere)

The Bobby Lees' "Wendy" is a simmering slice of riot 'n' roll that could have come from the garage or the gutter but brims with punk attitude.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.