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A Fireside Chat With Joe Morris

By Published: February 14, 2003

FJ: Age of Everything is a guitar trio session. The other two members in your band, Timo Shanko (bass) and Luther Gray (drums) are foreign to me (not that I know shit).

JM: There is another reason to make your own records because Timo Shanko is somebody I have known for a very long time, for about fifteen years. Luther is new to me, but Timo is a bassist in the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, which has consistently been one of my favorite groups of musicians. They are in Boston and they are led musically by Jim Hobbs, who is a tremendous alto player, who recorded with me on my record Racket Club , which is on About Time. These guys are phenomenal musicians. They are just unbelievable musicians. You go to, I think at this point, as amazing as they are, they are not trendy. They're not really interested in a lot of the things that have been going on, which to me, makes them more interesting because they are different. They're interested in Coltrane and Ornette and swinging and playing with a lot of energy and a lot of precision. They are really a different kind of group of musicians. So again, if I ask people to pony up to make a record with someone they have never heard of, it is harder to get the money. There is a bigger risk that people are going to lose money, so my attitude is to hell with it. I will just do it myself and I am so glad I did.

FJ: Eloping with the Sun (Riti) features Hamid Drake and William Parker.

JM: Yeah, I did a duo, Ken Vandermark hired me to play a duo in Chicago with Hamid a couple of years ago, about two and a half years ago. I have been playing banjo, ukulele for a long time and I'm really interested in African music and the name Riti Records, riti is a one string African fiddle. I spent years listening to field recordings of traditional West African string music. I am totally up, inside of that. I love that. I can talk to Hamid Drake about that and we know the names of people. He actually had tea once with Alhaji Bai Konte in a tent in the Sahara Desert. Alhaji Bai Konte is one of my all time heroes. He's one of the greatest kora players of the modern era.

In the duo, we played a little frame drum, ukulele duet and it worked. Then William Parker and I did a duo where he was playing zintir, which is a two string Moroccan bass lute. On the gig, we did about twenty five to thirty minutes of playing like that. About six months later, William came up to me in New York, and we were all playing on the same bill, and that the recording of that was really unusual and we should put it out. He gave it to me and I listened to it, but we didn't have enough to make a record. Hamid was coming to town and we put the microphones up and I recorded it at the AUM Fidelity headquarters and recorded a trio in an afternoon. It is the kind of thing that the three of us kind of just understand. I know those guys know about that music and we just do it. There is no discussion about what we are going to do. We just hit record and record a bunch of stuff. It is all centered about William's zintir. He is amazing. He is an non-traditional on that as he is on bass, but he ends up just furthering the whole reality of it because he is such a great musician.

FJ: A secondary vocabulary between the three of you.

JM: It definitely is, Fred. I think it might be equal to the primary vocabulary. One time I was sitting in a restaurant with Hamid in Chicago and we were talking about some of these things and a musician was sitting there, turned and said, 'What is that?' And Hamid said, 'That is what we try to get to every night when we play music.' I really think that that is what the three of us always try to do. It is maybe a little bit more obvious using this instrumentation, of the folk aspect of it. But it is funky too and it is intense and it is dense. And that is true of all of our playing. I think that sensibility totally governs everything that I ever do. I'm glad to be able to say that so people don't think I'm trying to be a classical musician. I like African music, jazz, and then folk music and pop music. That is totally where I come from on every level. It is easy to say that is true of those guys because they have proven that every time they pick up an instrument.

FJ: And the Whit Dickey record?

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