Bill Frisell Credit: Daniel Sheehan

Despite forging one of the most recognizable sounds on electric guitar over the last three decades, Bill Frisell has emphasized an ensemble-oriented approach for much of his career, one where his improvisations tend to shoot out of airy but rich arrangements like ethereal, meticulously pruned tendrils of melody and clouds of ambience. He’s functioned more as a jazz guitarist in certain contexts, like his recent work with Charles Lloyd or his long partnership with drummer Paul Motian and saxophonist Joe Lovano, and it’s that sound he conjures on Small Town (ECM), his stunning new album with bassist Thomas Morgan. The record was cut live at New York’s Village Vanguard—where the aforementioned trio with Motian and Lovano recorded some of its greatest work—and it opens with a gorgeously meditative, delicate reading of Motian’s “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago,” a seamless dance between guitarist and bassist where a preternatural connection is evident in every spontaneous phrase and atmospheric accent. With no instrumentalist present other than Morgan, we get to bask in Frisell’s warmly enveloping tone, which turns tuneful phrases into billowing harmonies and vice versa—the line between texture and melody is repeatedly and gloriously blurred. The set list nicely reflects Frisell’s varied interests, whether it’s the title track’s paean to wide-open ruralism, a tender reading of the Carter Family standard “Wildwood Flower,” or a midtempo assault on the Lee Konitz classic “Subconscious Lee”—a tune pulled out spontaneously when the duo realized the alto-sax great was in the audience. The connection between these musicians is so sublime it’s as if they’re creating a sculpture right before our ears. I’m looking forward to getting lost within it.   v