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Riti Records

Elliott Simon By

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In the end we're all better off just publishing our own records anyway
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."

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