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Joe Morris: Singularity, Part 2-2

By Published: August 25, 2005

AAJ: What's your favorite setting? To my ears it sounds like you're most free in a trio.

JM: If it's working right, I am. But it's the most difficult, because the instrument can really get overwhelmed pretty easily. That's one of the reasons I started doing it, because it was so hard, and I thought that as a guitarist, I could really work with different flow patterns, and different interactions with the band, so I've made all these trio records. At this point it's really difficult, and I feel the need to maybe take a rest from that.

I like my quartet a lot. It's really challenging... especially one with Mat Maneri in it, because the roles shift so much. And Mat's such an awesome improviser. That guy is so intuitive that you can go anywhere and he can make it music. He's amazing. So I like that, I can write for that in a lot of different ways, I can write pretty complicated things and really simple things, and it sort of unfolds pretty naturally. I can leave that up to chance a little bit more than the trio. The trio is pretty tightly organized. As loose as it can sound, the rehearsals for that are pretty tough.

But, like I said, I'm really into doing these open improvised things, various things, especially without drums. All I can say is, all this stuff is pretty interesting right now. The electric band is a real kick. I haven't worked in it for a long time... I really keep seeing myself doing all these different things, making up my music, not one thing or the other. Partly because I came out at a time after a lot of things have happened that are very specialized. I see the value in a lot of the work that people did, and I don't see it necessarily ending. But I see that you can modify it a lot, and come up with new things. Reining a lot of these extraneous elements in sets up another kind of trail. Another route.

AAJ: And you always have to be prepared to go with that.

JM: Yeah. I don't want to reject the idea of using extended techniques, or using noise. I don't want to reject the idea of using melody. I definitely don't want to reject the idea of using energy, intensity, and subtlety, or beauty or humor. All of those things. Part of my interest in African music was that it made me understand that music is about how people live, and what they do. If I ever need any inspiration to do something, I just have to think of another part of life, and human interaction, and connections with nature, and it's all there. Just be open enough and receptive enough to do something with it. And I think that's where the music is right now. I don't think it's about a narrow intellectual interpretation. I think it's really at the point of really blossoming again for 20 years.

People say jazz is dead. That's because the old jazz is dead. It lived, and now it's not alive any more.

It takes time for people to see what's left, because a lot of times there's a huge sort of reverential industry. You take some icon, and work the guy to death. A lot of times the rhetoric turns essentially into a dead end aesthetic. You say, "Well, this is the music." Whereas if you say, "The music is huge," that's not really dead end. That's open ended. I've never been into dead end aesthetics.

AAJ: I think that's due to the abuse of power. When you're Miles Davis, and you're a multimillionaire, and you drive a yellow Ferrari, and you can do whatever you want, you're going to turn into an asshole pretty quick.

JM: Yeah. I think he probably did. But then again, a lot of people who made him a star, people who gave him the impression that he was the end-all, and the only one you could really admire...they're the ones that are really doing the damage, you know. Miles was just playing what he thought was good music, and people were digging it, so it became popular. It was really strong.

I think there are points where things that are going to run to a dead end have to happen, too. They have to happen. Things that don't seem to offer any kind of opening end up setting up a kind of orthodoxy, and it gives a new group of people an opportunity to break those rules.

Jazz ends up, just like any other art form, for all its talk about freedom, becomes one set of rigid orthodoxy and dogma after another. That's why the trick is to always figure out a way to break those rules, and refine creativity. I mean, Matt Shipp and I have gotten a lot of flack for what we do: for playing melodies, or trying to play intensely, or playing long improvisations, or playing a lot of notes. I've gotten into all sorts of problems for swinging...

AAJ: How dare you!

JM: Or playing the guitar without effects, or not imitating Derek Bailey.

AAJ: That's great! Those are compliments.

JM: And I hope all those people that are pissed off go away, and leave a space for new people who want to hear some new music to come in, and feel like they can be involved in it. It's like the changing of the guard. Just like John Zorn got flack at first for playing duck calls in a glass of water...

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