Riti Records provided an initial forum for Joe Morris to expand his jazz guitar into exciting new areas. After a decade's hiatus, Morris has resurrected Riti with a twofold mission: furnish opportunities for experienced artists to test the boundaries of their music and afford creative young musicians the chance to be heard. Recent releases feature established performers in "new" roles and exciting young instrumentalists who are not afraid to push limits. As such, Riti is again on the bleeding edge with compositional originality and unique instrumental juxtapositions. Realizing that larger labels find it difficult to support new creative music, Riti is part of a growing trend of artist-run ventures that try to cater more to creativity than bottom line. Morris has no illusions and credits a great relationship with AUM Fidelity for making the revived Riti work, "In the end we're all better off just publishing our own records anyway...you are better off just owning what you have for the long run and doing the best you can with it. My relationship now with Steven Joerg at AUM Fidelity is good. I'm kind of like an independent A&R guy...I have a really nice situation with them."
To fulfill the label's and his own musical mission, Morris has become a bassist, "I have been writing all of my music with an emphasis on how the bass functions for 20 years...I think the way the bass and drums work is always where the innovation is...you can't have things happening in the treble clef that's really interesting if the bass is doing the same junk...so I've always tried to write to manipulate the bass...at one point I just said...hell why don't I just play the bass...and then I can do both..."
And do both he does on two of Riti's offerings that feature pianist Steve Lantner ( Saying So
) and cellist Daniel Levin ( Don't Go It Alone
). Lantner's piano trio, with drummer Laurence Cook, proves Morris correct, as intriguing rhythms explore a diverse musical pallet. The magnum opus "Under the Sun" is an experiential experiment with Lantner all over the keyboard as he and his rhythm section navigate various free highways that lead to some unexpected places. Levin's quartet is notable for its instrumentation: pairing cello and bass with Dave Ballou's cornet and Matt Moran's vibraphone. A highly personal project, the drumless lineup results in a lovely chamber portrait that melds instruments in unhurried improvisation and "17th Street" and "Bronx No. 2" present both an eerie and swinging vision of the city. Levin, a classically trained cellist, can connect Beethoven's motivs to free improv and related that he thrives in the bold Riti atmosphere, "I like the adventuresome quality of the label...It was different...It was my own sense of things...Joe values people's authenticity and genuine qualities...I didn't encounter any limitations."
Morris has also decided to add his personal touch to the packaging and presentation of each Riti release. Production runs are limited to 2000 and each CD is packaged in a functionally elegant cardboard case exquisitely designed by graphic artist Anne Marcotty. With all of this innovation, Morris fans will be pleased to know that recent releases also include substantial helpings of Joe Morris guitar. Age of Everything
is a power guitar trio session with Timo Shanko on bass and drummer Luther Gray. "Tree Branch" is infectious with its catchy riff while "Way In" contains a Latinesque groove, the harmonically interesting "Telepathy" has an Eastern texture and the title cut is a bluesy piece. With each, their extended length allows Morris to set up an initial theme before rocketing out into space with amazing fretwork and raw speed until he somehow finds his way home. Commenting on the American "blues" aspect of his playing, he said, "...my music has always had a blues inflection...I like soul music in its most bizarre most abstract most intellectual and deepest senses... from African string music to Anthony Braxton... to me all that stuff has a component underneath, that (saxophonist) Ken Vandermark calls the narrative...Ken actually this week said to me...'You're really an American musician' and this is a time when I guess you are supposed to be ashamed of that but that's kind of what I am and I can't help it....so if there's a blues sensibility in my music...that's good."
Veteran musicians have teamed with Morris for an experiment in free African instrumentation, Eloping With the Sun
. This effort has Morris playing banjo and banjouke, bassist William Parker on zintir (bass lute) and Hamid Drake on frame drum. To Morris, this singular session is a natural expansion of his guitar playing, "I really think that what I try to do on the guitar is just an extension of the delta blues which is connected to West African music...the banjo and the ukulele are like percussive string instruments...that's why I was drawn to them in the first place...you can play some rhythms and play some melodies against the rhythms...it's really no different than what I do on the guitar...but the intonation and the kind of folky sound of it give it a different kind of feel that you can't get with the guitar."
Altoist Rob Brown contributes his sax stylings to two Riti projects. On the first, Prophet Moon, drummer Whit Dickey takes his turn at leading the palindromic trio AHXOLOXHA through its paces with original drum compositions. This trio reprises Riti's 1992 release, Youniverse
, and according to Morris, remains a lineup like no other, "That group gives me the chance to do things on the guitar that I can't do anywhere else. There's a lot of things in playing with those guys in that situation that have to do with placement...where we all have to think about where we place our ideas...rhythmically, melodically, and texturally in terms of density and tempo..." The second, Likewise
by Stone House, is a powerfully driven spontaneous session that features Morris on bass, Brown on alto and flute and drummer Luther Gray. Morris explains the concept: "The idea around Stone House is we tried to put ourselves in as many inexplicable improvisational situations as we could think of. The sense about Stone House is that it's a place where things happen made out of raw material." In the dexterously creative hands of Joe Morris, Riti Record's abundant raw material should continue to be sculpted into fascinating soundscapes.
Read all the Riti Records CD reviews at AAJ.
Visit Riti Records on the web at www.aumfidelity.com .