When guitarist Joe Morris began playing contrabass in outfits with alto saxophonist Rob Brown, drummer Whit Dickey and others at the beginning of the 2000s, it might have struck some as a surprise. But whatever the differences in requirements between those two instruments, Morris' central axis as both player and composer is rhythm birthing flight. And indeed, the spread of these two instruments merges most in the fact that the same person propels them. Two recent trio releases, both showcasing Morris' bass work, bring attention to the diversity of his talents as an instrumentalist, improviser and composer.
Steve LantnerWhat You Can ThrowHatology
2008 What You Can Throw
is the third recording of Boston pianist Steve Lantner's trio, with Morris and drummer Luther Gray. Lantner and Morris are fairly long-term associates and the pianist has also worked with fellow New Englanders, reeds player Joe and violinist Mat Maneri. On this disc, the trio engages tunes by the leader as well as Morris and reeds players Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman. Morris' "New Routine" consists of telescoping single-note lines over a thick, walking anchor, an approach that is one characteristic of his compositions. Lantner plucks at the melody, slowly teasing out clusters, torqued harmonies and ornate runs in gauzy midrange. Sometimes he hits bluesy chords and inverts them a la Paul Bley, but with fractured detail.
The title track, a group improvisation, recalls 1950s Cecil Taylor, small dense masses at low-to-medium volume tossed at Gray's supple accents with increasing speed while Morris outlines form and acts the anchor. His solo is built of earthy vamps, bringing the wood to a glass enclosure. The Steve Lantner Trio is clearly more than an avant-garde piano trio, though even in that area they're at the forefront. This trio encapsulates some of the most distinctive recent work in the format.
Jim Hobbs / Joe Morris / Luther Gray The Story Of MankindNot Two
Alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs has been a mainstay of the Boston improvisation scene for some time, mostly working in the Fully Celebrated Orchestra (his band with bassist Timo Shanko, trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum and drummer Django Carranza) as well as in Morris' quarteton the latter's Beautiful Existence
(Clean Feed, 2006), his puckered and worried yelps built into scorched braying atop the Africanized slink of "Knew Something." The Story of Mankind
finds Morris, Hobbs and once again Luther Gray exploring five group improvisations. In "The Story of a Word,"Hobbs' bent, flat and slippery tone is reminiscent of a shenai or Ghanaian cabby's horn floating atop an intricate rhythm machine. The opening "Then a Genius Bethought Himself of the Use of Fire" (credit historiographer HW Van Loon for the titles) finds the trio off at an immediate run, buzzing alto trills and bloodthirsty Charles Tyler-esque vibrato clambering over the thrumming architecture of Morris and Gray. Harping on bitter pops, stretching out over shrill runs and bending the hell out of phrases seem like hallmarks of the skronky player, but assembling these into an interesting and personal approach is what makes Jim Hobbs an artist to watch.
Tracks and Personnel What You Can Throw
Tracks: New Routine; What You Can Throw; Composition 23J; All Around; Broken Shadows.
Personnel: Steve Lantner: piano; Joe Morris: double bass; Luther Gray: drums. The Story of Mankind
Tracks: Then a Genius Bethought Himself of the Use of Fire; Lost in the Vastness of the Universe; The Story of a Word; Gunpowder; The Spreading of the Idea of Popular Sovereignty.
Personnel: Jim Hobbs: alto sax: Joe Morris: bass; Luther Gray: drums.