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Friday, June 4, 2021

Joe Morris/Damon Smith - Gusts Against Particles (Open Systems Records, 2021) ****

By Kenneth Blanchard

In a class called Biblical Literature I learned that the authors of the Old Testament could produce resonance not by rhyme or measured percussive intervals but by the repetition and juxtaposition of meaning. A fool’s lips walk into a fight, we learn in Proverbs 18:7, and his mouth invites a beating. One idea stated twice in distinct images − ruin, snare. At 18:17 we are informed that the one who states his case first seems right/until the other comes and examines him. Point and counterpoint.

Poets and composers rely on rhyme and meter as key materials for creating resonance. In both cases, overuse eventually led to the search for new materials. Avant garde jazz musicians found one such material in the texture of the sounds produced by the various instruments and voices. The visceral rattle followed by the explosive moan are the words and phrases of these verses.

If that kind of thing is your kind of thing, whaaaaat I’ve got for you! Gusts Against Particles presents a duet between Joe Morris on guitar and Damon Smith on double bass. The latter is the perfect vehicle for textural resonance. Its output is, after all, both tactile and audible. You feel it as much as you hear it when the rattle and thump of fat string against slim wood slithers across your living room floor. Perhaps because he has recorded extensively on both instruments, Morris always knows how to ring the right bell at the right moment.

The first cut ‑ 'Waves of Extension' ‑ creates a sort of doppler effect as guitar and bass race furiously along in parallel. The notes seeming to bunch up and constrict one another, as if there is simply not enough room for them in the air. At times, the big instrument goes almost perfectly tactile, not so much slither as a serrated blade cutting through bark.

In the next ‑ 'Equalization Staggering' ‑ the bass is used more percussively, and you get the feeling that something really big is lumbering your way. Godzilla, perhaps, for the guitar occasionally sprinkles in some almost Asian strings.

By the final cut ‑ 'Multiple Presences' ‑ the cast of textural characters has expanded, and the pulse intensified to an almost geological intensity. If you want to witness communication in a very refined vocabulary of sounds, you won’t do better than this.

I must say something about the title. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover and somethings you can’t judge a piece of free jazz without its title. Gusts Against Particles needs to be taken literally. Airborne particles move in random ways under the power of wind. When is alive, it sometimes swims against the tide.