Joe Morris Organ Trio at Tonic
107 Norfolk Street,
Lower East Side, New York City, USA
August 10, 2006
In the midst of a late summer downpour, guitarist Joe Morris premiered his newest ensemble on the stage of Tonic, the Lower East Side's venerable avant-garde jazz mecca. Featuring fellow Boston-based members, keyboardist Steve Lantner on organ and drummer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng, the trio explored the untapped potential of one of jazz's most reliable, yet unyielding instrumental line-ups, the classic organ combo.
This new ensemble project conceptually concludes what Morris jokingly refers to as his "big loud electric trilogy," continuing the thematic concepts begun on Morris' previous releases, Sweatshop (Riti, 1990) and Racket Club (About Time, 1993). With more emphasis on pentatonic scales and harmolodic variations in these settings, Morris reveals a side of his playing not heard in his more intimate, stripped-down ensembles. Tentatively titled Mess Hall, the trio focuses on sound, drone, root and texture, all in a unique rhythmic setting.
Playing a fully improvised set with only a few suggestions made beforehand and some melodic ideas agreed on in the moment, the entire improvisation was played as one continuous piece with recurring dynamic shifts, alluding to skeletal song forms.
The set started out in full free jazz mode, with drummer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng flailing away at his kit, whipping up a torrent of sound. Lantner's hands rocked back and forth plumbing the lower register and chordal clusters while Morris spewed out his usual stream of angular, circuitous notes. His tone is pure, round and bright, highlighting his amazing dexterity. What Morris does with such virtuosity however, is well beyond the average guitar slinger. Morris employs adrenalized fluency in the service of advanced harmony, sculpting abstruse, spiraling melodies into exotic mantras far removed from empty technical virtuosity.
While Morris generally avoids voluminous histrionics and bluesy leads, here he sporadically ratcheted up the intensity level with a burst of Sonny Sharrock/Sonic Youth- inspired strumming or an occasional screaming lead.
Vacillating between righteous funky backbeats, roiling tribal polyryhthms and supple swing rhythms, Kwaakye Obeng drove the ensemble as often as he followed his band mates' lead. Lantner alternated between support role and soloist, often engaging in brief duets with Morris during the set's rare introspective moments. Morris and Kwaakye Obeng sparred during their sporadic passages unaccompanied by Lantner, Morris' singular tone and phrasing spotlighted in all its abstract glory.
Morris' newest ensemble shows intriguing possibilities. Pummeling grooves, kaleidoscopic melodic fragments, dense texture and nuanced group interplay all inhabit this electrified miasma, making it one of ihs most unusual recent projects.
Personnel: Joe Morris: electric guitar; Steve Lantner: organ; Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng: drums.