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Sunday, December 24, 2023

Joe Morris / Jeb Bishop / Nathan McBride - Tells or Terrier (Not Two Records, 2023)

By Jury Kobayashi

Tells or Terrier is a recent release from Not Two Records, recorded in April 2022, at Joe Morris’s Riti Studios in Connecticut. It features Joe Morris on drums, Jeb Bishop on trombone, and Nathan McBride on double bass. There is so much to say about this album, from the high quality of playing from each musician, to the subtle flow and structure of the album, to the spectacular mix and mastering, and the beautiful album art.

The liner notes describe the experience of recording the album: three old friends playing together, reminiscing, and reflecting, eating together on the beach, and walking through the forest with Morris’s dog. In many ways, that is how the album sounds, there is a narrative arc occurring, not one I can articulate with words but one that I feel as a listener. While it is a deep listening experience, it is also friendly-there is nothing daunting about hearing this album.

The playing of each musician is incredible. Bishop’s trombone playing continues to mesmerize with his wide pallet of colours and articulations, moving from a large piercing sound, to sounds of lips smacking to letting his breathy air glide across the mouthpiece. Morris plays the drums lyrically, horn-like even, and the drums under his sticks sound conversational, sometimes like an orchestra of woody voices. McBride’s bass playing is superb-he moves beautifully between bowed and plucked notes, always supportive, always singing, constantly colouring the texture of the music.

But it’s not the virtuosity of playing of the musicians that is the star of this album, it is the sophistication of improvised interactions that keeps me listening to this album over and over again. There is co-operation, with each member co-creating and co-listening; they are three individuals, yet they sound like one. At times, I will listen and not realize that someone has dropped out to let the other shine and then will join back in to provide support.

My favourite track is “Full Boat”. It opens with McBride plucking the bass in a way where some notes are muted, likely by not fully pressing down the string and interspersing it with harmonics and fully sounded notes. The result is a percussive effect on the double bass, something Anthony Braxton might call short attacks, that almost sounds like he’s drumming on a small wooden boat. Before you know it, Morris has sneaked in the back door, laying small conversational shots in duet with McBride’s bass. Then Bishop’s trombone soars in, and the music sets sail . Near the end, a groove emerges from the interplay of the drums and the bass, and the trombone responds brilliantly, but before you know it, the groove is gone. Ephemeral moments like those ones occur throughout the album.

I love this album. I cannot recommend it enough.