Back in the '60s, jazz players made a startling discovery: density can lead to weightlessness. With the onset of energy music came the revelation that emotional intensity, harmonic freedom, and piercing improvisation can yield a spiritual enlightenment unattainable by other means. John Coltrane, an icon from the period, found over time that he was able to communicate on a higher level when he let go of the constraints that rein in most jazz players.
Guitarist Joe Morris learned this fundamental rule long ago, and ever since the late '80s he has forged a path that has revealed him to be one of the greatest jazz innovators of recent years. With Age of Everything, Morris returns to his own record label after a number of recordings with Soul Note, AUM Fidelity, Leo, and other progressive jazz labels. The disc's title and the formidable hunk of granite on the cover both express a respect for time; yet the playing here emphasizes the transcendence of immediacy. Morris's trio starts from relatively simple structural units and then uses them as a touchstone for ideas conceived in the moment. The second tune, "Way In," for example, never really lets go of a bumpy groove, but Morris's guitar work shoots it into another realm. Drummer Luther Gray and bassist Timo Shanko gladly straddle the line between composition and improvisation, feeding off each other's energy and providing a solid musical platform. At times Shanko and Morris seem connected by subliminal energy when their lines merge and separate; Timo Shanko is clearly one to watch.
Some listeners may find Morris's sheer virtuosity and energetic playing a bit overwhelming. His pointillism dances around ideas, hinting at resolution but rarely offering it at face value. Before any dust has a chance to settle, he's taken his ideas to a new plateau and danced after yet another spirit.
But that's where Joe Morris holds true to the tradition. His music revolves around seeking and expansion, just like all the landmark figures of free improvisation. Age of Everything may feature a high degree of harmonic and melodic complexity, but that's just rocket fuel for spiritual enlightenment.
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