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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Joe Morris - Today On Earth (AUM Fidelity, 2009) ****½

 I'm sure I miscalculated, but the sum so far is 3 albums this year with Joe Morris as a leader, and 6 as a sideman/bandmember, and the distinction between the former and the latter is also not always quite clear. That means nine in total, with the three below to be added, quite a prolific list this year.

I have this ambiguous relationship to Joe Morris: sometimes I find him excellent, at other times I find him really hard to understand, but he is always adventurous, never satisfied with the status quo, and always striving for new approaches and high quality delivery. He can be very jazzy, with clear melodic and rhythmic figures, or very avant-garde, with abstract pointillistic notes creating unusual sound tapestries. Below, we move from the first to the last.

Joe Morris - Today On Earth (AUM Fidelity, 2009) ****½

"Today On Earth" is made by the same band as "Beautiful Existence", with Joe Morris on electric guitar, Jim Hobbs on alto, Timo Shanko on bass and Luther Gray on drums. And like that album, the main strength here are also the truly wonderful compositions, which are refined, carefully structured, compelling and beautifully performed. Morris is without a doubt a good guitarist, with his own typical sound, yet here his playing is much closer to the traditional jazz guitar, and I must say, it suits him well. It's highly rhythmic, as if written by Morris the bass-player. And the band is absolutely stunning, in its pretenseless, unassuming playing, yet delivering a rare level of combined accuracy of tone and interaction, giving space, dialoguing well, giving the right emphasis at the right time, and adding loads of emotional depth: truly great. But as said, the real treat are the compositions, with theme's like "Animal", or "The Observer" that will keep ringing in your head long after you've stopped listening to the music. The music incorporates a lot, with a title already hinting at it : you have jazz (and a wide variety of it), African music, Middle-Eastern flavors, folk, a little blues, and lots of freedom and joy. Enjoy this beautiful existence, today on earth!

Joe Morris - Colorfield (ESP Disks, 2009) ****

"Colorfield" has Joe Morris on electric guitar, Steve Lantner on piano and Luther Gray on drums. Their endeavor is produce the musical equivalent of the "Colorfield", a painting style that was popular in the 40s and 50s, "characterized by large fields of color spread across the canvas". The three musicians draw broad strokes of music, but working with agreed approaches of rhythm, harmony, phrase and tempo. Not unlike Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons, the length of the pieces make the overall created sound into a mass of notes, in which the individual points are less relevant, it's the overall impression and auditory effect that counts. Abstract yes, but melodic too, with careful restraint precision on the first and third piece, with leads indeed to a strange kind of non-figurative clarity, and with more nervous and agitated work on the two other pieces.

Joe Morris, Simon Fell, Alex Ward - The Necessary And The Possible (Victo, 2009) ****

The album's title comes from a play by Harold Pinter, but it also refers of course to the metaphysics or even the biology of life itself. You need the necessity of certain laws to offer the possibility of freedom. Or, freedom in a void is meaningless. Sound does not escape from the laws of physics and your listener's ear's biological capturing and transforming of it. Yet within these unchanging set of fixed laws, the realm of possibilities is endless: stretching notes, using pitch and timbre differently, playing around with them, bouncing them off against each other, with the other musicians, interacting, acting together, changing courses, coming back home again. Not an easy task, but with three musicians with experience and expertise, a pleasure to listen to : Joe Morris on acoustic guitar, Simon H. Fell on bass and Alex Ward on clarinet. The latter's voice is possibly the most dominant one for obvious reasons, but it thanks the way it moves and sings and swirls to the more muted yet equally powerful sound of the guitar and the bass. Abstract, but quite enjoyable.

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© stef


Unknown said...

Hi Mr Stif,

One interesting convention I've observed over the years is the occasional incredulity that rises in a piece about some 'free jazz' player's ability to evoke the older forms with authority, conviction and panache.

Working at this level usually presupposes mastery of the prior foundations. When you train your hands and mind to coax interval melody and asymmetric tone clusters from a treacherous guitar fret, running scales and chords is a minor after thought that has been done.

Jimmy Lyons could easily play as Bird, Matthew Shipp can resurrect Bud Powell and Joe Morris could readily conjure Joe Pass.

When one can build a mansion with sonic achitecture, one can also build a dog house.

The reverse doesn't work as well.

Stef said...

Hi Chris,
Well-put. Although the ultimate thing to the listener is still the subjective sound experience.

Technique by itself means nothing, it's what you do with it. Some of the old blues guitarists have more to say than the most educated guitar technicians of today.

Some mansions are ugly, some dog houses all nice and sweet.