Joe Morris: Today on Earth; Colorfield; The Necessary and the Possible; Fine Objects
Joe Morris/Simon H. Fell/Alex Ward
With four new releases, Joe Morris continues to expand his prodigious output with varied work, refining and redefining his identity as an inventive and deeply principled improviser. From the thickly woven tapestries of microscopic textures of The Necessary and the Possible (with Simon H. Fell and Alex Ward) to the tightly executed melodies and forms on Today on Earth, the latest offering from the Joe Morris Quartet, the depth and profundity of the results from these disparate endeavors bear the mark of an innovative artist with decades of experience.
Today on Earth reprises Morris' familiar format of a jazz quartet. Longtime Morris collaborators Jim Hobbs (saxophone), Timo Shanko (bass) and Luther Gray (drums) all shine throughout this record. Hobbs' solo on "Animal" is nothing short of astounding in its abstract lyricism, replete with throaty vocalizations, dramatic use of negative space and a gradually expanding phrase structure. Shanko and Gray form an inspiring rhythm section, providing driving energy on the title cut and on "Imaginary Solutions," deep pocket on "Animal" and "Backbone" and subtle atmospheric textures on "Observer" and "Ashes" (the latter also featuring a wonderful introductory solo from Shanko). Morris' compositions linger in the ear, as the ensemble dynamics in the improvisations always develop and enrich the evocative themes.
A compelling contrast can be made between Morris' distinct approaches on two discs featuring extended improvisations for trios, both of which eschew the traditional rhythm section. Colorfield features Morris with pianist Steve Lantner and drummer Luther Gray. This trio intentionally does away with the bass, freeing the remaining trio to improvise in wide expanses of color. Lantner demonstrates a fluidity and versatility full of dense melodic intrigue, harmonic depth and implied rhythmic undertones. His dense phrasing balances Morris' decidedly melodic approach on this recorda distinct contrast to the subtle textures and timbres Morris coaxes from his guitar on The Necessary and the Possible. In this drummerless setting, the players have the opportunity to magnify the most minute of clicks, hums and scrapes. The same expansive dynamic range applies here, but the sounds that reside just above silence get explored much more thoroughly than on Colorfield, where sound is produced in broad strokes. Bassist Simon H. Fell employs a vast array of extended techniques, mostly produced with careful use of the bow. Morris' unlikely harmonies and clarinetist Alex Ward's mix of staccato and legato articulations are both matched in kind with Fell's tapped, plucked, scraped and rubbed gestures. The gathering of these musicians was facilitated in 2008 by the presenters at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. With a few informal events in the days prior to the festival premiere, the trio developed a strong rapport that translated well to their work here.
The final record in this group is again a trio, though this time Morris is found on contrabass, from a session dating back to early 2007. Saxophonist Petr Cancura is present, a talented young player who has since worked with Morris in the trio Wildlife, whose record came out early last year. African influences are noteworthy, particularly on "Rwanda," a piece influenced by Cancura's work with African musicians touring Canada. Fine Objects enjoys a fluidity of gesture that is markedly different than on the other discs in this set. This is not the focused, directional ensemble dynamic of Today on Earth, nor is it representative of the expansive blocks of Cecil Taylor-esque sound masses found on Colorfield or the hugely magnified micro-objects that populate the sonic environs of The Necessary and the Possible. This record glides along at a pace that is effortless but never without intent and purpose. The ballad-like tempos of "My Reverie" and "Big Foot" emphasize a relaxed chemistry that shows up as a supple lightheartedness in even the most driving moments on the record, such as "Beautiful Existence" or "Flip and Spike." Nods towards the tradition of creative jazz are present here in Eric Dolphy's "Gazzelloni" and Ornette Coleman's "Voice Poetry." The former finds Cancura displaying a very organic sense of phrasing and shape on clarinet and the latter bursts with energy, from drummer Jason Nazary's lengthy unaccompanied introduction to the peak midway through, before settling gradually back to a more measured pace for the restatement of the melody and a somewhat playful disintegration to silence.
Tracks and Personnel
Today on Earth
Tracks: Backbone; Animal; Today on Earth; Observer; Embarrassment of Riches; Ashes; Imaginary Solutions.
Personnel: Joe Morris: guitar; Jim Hobbs: alto saxophone; Timo Shanko: bass; Luther Gray: drums.
Tracks: Transparent; Silver Sun; Purple Distant; Bell Orange Curves.
Personnel: Joe Morris: guitar; Steve Lantner: piano; Luther Gray: drums.
The Necessary and the Possible
Tracks: Ils improviseront; Ils auront improvisé; Ils improvisaient; Ils improvisèrent; Ils eurent improvisé.
Personnel: Joe Morris: acoustic guitar; Simon H Fell: bass; Alex Ward: clarinet.
Tracks: Beautiful Existence; Rwanda; My Reverie; Big foot; Flip & Spike; Gazzelloni; Folk; Voice Poetry.
Personnel: Joe Morris: bass; Peter Cancura: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jason Nazary: drums.