By J.D. Considine | Published August 2020
“Playing together” is a phrase so commonplace it’s easy to forget what it signifies. Of course, there’s the obvious: making music with others, performing as an ensemble, being creative in a group. But the music guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston offer here suggests a specific spin on the idea, one that emphasizes the togetherness of the playing.
On Valentine, they consistently and strikingly play as one, voices intertwined, completing phrases as if sharing a single thought. Sometimes, as in the opening to “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” that’s presented in an interwoven statement of melody; elsewhere, as within the swirling pulse of “Baba Drame,” it’s exemplified by the closeness of their improvisation. Even overdubs, as on the haunting, atmospheric “Hour Glass,” are so perfect that everything feels utterly organic.
In the liner notes, Frisell credits this closeness to two years spent working on the road, and no doubt that’s part of the magic. But it also seems to stem from a shared sensibility of feeling the music the same way. How else to explain the lopsided cadences in the Monkish blues “Valentine,” a groove that forever sounds as if it’s about to lose its balance yet never does? Or the soulful sweetness they bring to “We Shall Overcome,” so that it seems pop-song bright without losing its hymn-like fortitude? Even though the selections on Valentine hail from a range of styles—Afropop, country-western, Brill Building pop, atmospheric electronica—the performances represent jazz playing at its most sublime. And music seldom gets more “together” than that.
Valentine: Baba Drame; Hour Glass; Valentine; Levees; Winter Always Turns To Spring; Keep Your Eyes Open; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Electricity; Wagon Wheels; Aunt Mary; What The World Needs Now Is Love; Where Do We Go?; We Shall Overcome. (65:50)
Personnel: Bill Frisell, guitar, acoustic guitar; Thomas Morgan, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.