Once Joe Morris made the leap from guitar to bass three years ago, it's been fascinating to see the results. His idiosyncratic approach to the instrument will likely be the biggest draw for Stone House, a collective free improv trio. And while the sense of time and harmony he brings to the music is remarkable, the real treat on Likewise
is the playing of Rob Brown. Brown is the heir to the Jimmy Lyons throne, a thoroughly open-minded alto player who refuses to relinquish swing and melody even during his furthest trips out. And that insistent bird-like tone...
Let it be said at the outset that the entire record was freely improvised, and the relatively lengthy pieces (averaging ten minutes apiece) do not compromise at any level. You wouldn't want to play this as background music, unless you're uncannily adept at multitasking.
The title track of Likewise evidences this group's ability to cross just about every line without ever getting lost or cramping up. During these twelve minutes of rocket booster thrust, the group seems ever-eager to rush forward, nudging and elbowing each other on the way. Brown launches into cascading, rippling lines that never lose track of direction. With plenty of roughness around the edges, but not so much that the melody loses its crispness, he plays with time almost endlessly. His phrases, clearly demarcated by breath, interconnect in oblique ways and expand from straightforward triplets to all sorts of oddly assembled metric units.
And that's where drummer Luther Gray comes in. At 30 he's the youngest member of the group, but age seems to be no impediment. He tends toward detailed playing and emphasizes color and melody over timekeeping. That's an effective complement for Morris's weird stabs and thrusts, at times decorating the beat and at others pushing it around.
Morris seems quite confident here, with heavier chops and an expansive range. He makes that obligatory connection between the walking bass line that informs all of modern jazz and the more abstract constructs born in the '60s and '70s. Rather than going after timbral experimentation, he tends toward a more straightforward tone, which is no surprise given his crisp and clean guitar playing, though he does take a few detours in that direction. To be honest, the bass sounds like a better vehicle than the guitar, since it offers him a chance to explore odd intervals and irregular meters without necessarily occupying the spotlight.
Given the freely improvised nature of these tunes, it's surprising how much ground Stone House covers. But Likewise always teeters on the edge, never really embracing resolution. It's not intellectual music by any stretch, unless you want to try and figure out the details. But if you allow yourself to get involved, you'll likely find yourself swept away.
Visit Joe Morris on the web. Riti releases are distributed by AUM Fidelity .
Personnel: Luther Gray: drums; Joe Morris: bass; Rob Brown: alto saxophone and flute.