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First Art of Jazz concert presents singular effort by exceptional duo

Bill Frisell is a unique and memorable master of guitar tone and phrasing; his use of space and the crystalline clarity with which he approaches his material sets him apart from just about any other guitarist you could care to name.

The repertoire Frisell shares with his audiences covers a lot of sonic and historical territory, including jazz classics by Thelonious Monk set alongside American folk tunes, soundtrack excerpts and his own compositions. While the guitarist anchors and shapes all of these aural excursions, the arrangements are colored by the personnel accompanying him.

Such was the case for Saturday night’s sold-out concert in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s “Art of Jazz” series. This time Frisell was joined by bassist Thomas Morgan, whose strong yet subtle pulse meshed perfectly with the guitarist’s approach.

News Arts Editor Jeff Simon, in his review of “Small Town,” the duo’s new album, used the term “Chamber Jazz” to describe what Frisell and Morgan were playing, and that’s appropriate. It’s a description that implies an intimacy approaching the one heard in classical piano sonatas and string quartets, where the lines played and ideas conveyed are distilled samples of emotion and melody.

A delightful disc from Frisell and Morgan

Frisell’s approach to playing (influenced by a small battery of foot pedals and effects) wound itself around the sound of Morgan’s full-bodied bass playing.

The effect of these like-minded musicians working within the chamber music concept alluded to by Simon made it seem as if another player would only disturb the flow and their seamless interaction.

There usually comes a point within a concert when the previous tune was named and the following piece announced, but not this time.

Other than when Frisell introduced Morgan, the communication from the stage was purely musical. The guitarist would tune between songs and briefly fiddle with his equipment to set up the right sound for the next tune.

The overall feeling was akin to being in a theater where the soundtrack was the star instead of whatever might be happening on the silver screen.

A lot of “Small Town” was featured (including the title tune as their encore), but they also dipped into the Monk catalog for “Epistrophy,” along with a couple other covers.

The audience was duly appreciative of their playing but, in some ways, the most affecting part of the evening belonged to Bruce Eaton, the former and once again current programmer of the series, whose initial appearance on the stage to announce the rest of the season’s schedule was greeted with a standing ovation.

Next up is pianist Monty Alexander, who will grace the series on Jan. 28.

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