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Joe Morris / William Parker / Gerald Cleaver: Altitude

John Sharpe By

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Guitarist Joe Morris is on a roll. Hardly a month goes by without a new release featuring the Boston-based musician. Of course, he doubled his chances by adding acoustic bass to his armory alongside his six-stringed axe. It's the latter he wields on this trio date featuring bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, captured at New York City's Stone in June, 2011. Strangely, given their long acquaintance, this is the first time this particular combination has recorded, though each knows the others well from other collaborations. Cleaver and Parker form two-thirds of improvising collective Farmers By Nature, while Parker featured alongside Morris in the Eloping With The Sun (Aum Fidelity, 2003) triumvirate, and the guitarist and drummer both number among Jean Carla Rodea's Azares. What that familiarity ensures is that there is none of the "getting to know you" tentativeness that afflicts some first-time dates. All three leap straight in, spinning yarns.

Inspired by the lengthy expositions of Coltrane and Cecil Taylor (although sounding nothing like either) the threesome maintains an urgent pace throughout the first extended piece (50-plus minutes, demarcated into the first two tracks, comprising the opening set in full). In a relatively straightforward execution, the adventure stems from the ceaseless search, as the trio obsessively wrings all the possibilities inherent from a single mood via a steadily blossoming stream of consciousness.

As Morris says in the liners: "we kept it simple and let it unfold naturally, listening for the discovery of melody, always comfortable on that tremendous platform of rhythm." And that's how it sounds. While no one is likely to go away humming a refrain from this disc, a certain lower case lyricism permeates the atmosphere, especially the guitarist's genial single line rivulets and Parker's tonally sympathetic counterpoint. Their unity of purpose is such that even when the music opens out for a drum solo towards the end of "Exosphere," the dynamic doesn't change and the energy level barely dips.

For the second set, excerpted here in the final two cuts, Parker switches from bass to sintir—a Moroccan three-stringed lute. That decision engenders a different feel, with Parker's dusty grooves evoking Africa's vast open plains and timeless emotions. Cleaver avoids the obvious foot-tapping response, preferring instead a clattering pulse resembling fragments of several diverse tempos simultaneously. Subtle accents and changes of emphasis color the flow to maintain interest with Morris at his most assertive on "Mesosphere" pressing his points with a determined vigor.

To sum up: three friends with nothing to prove bring home the bacon on a hot night in NYC.

Track Listing: Exosphere; Thermosphere; Troposphere; Mesoosphere.

Personnel: Joe Morris: guitar; William Parker: bass, sintir; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Title: Altitude | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: AUM Fidelity

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