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Joe Morris: Shock Axis

Mark Corroto By

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I am applying for a NEA grant to test my theory that you can judge an album by it's cover. For instance, The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St (RSR, 1972) and The Clash's London Calling (CBS, 1979) are two albums where you just knew what to expect by gazing at the covers. In the jazz world, Sonny Clark's Cool Struttin' (Blue Note, 1958) and John Zorn's Spy Vs. Spy: The Music Of Ornette Coleman give away the contents of the respective sessions.

Same can be said of Joe Morris' Shock Axis, white letters on a black and red background. It could just be communicating a warning, "Beware This Record Is Dangerous," or maybe it's the instructions for the record seller to bundle it in a plain brown wrapper.

Likewise, these instructions could apply to several Morris releases of late. Let's call them his Jamie Saft period, The Spanish Donkey, with Saft and Mike Pride, and Slobber Pup with Saft, Balázs Pándi, and Trevor Dunn. Each brings out more rock-oriented, ok let's say hardcore, side of Morris. His guitar work has always been ferocious, but that zeal was often an introspective intensity. Here, his sound is extroverted and unreserved.

Morris performs in trio with his guitar protege Chris Cretella, who like Morris often does, plays bass. Here, electric bass to Morris' electric guitar. The trio is complete with drummer Dave Parmelee, who has more in common with Chris Corsano and Ronald Shannon Jackson than he does with Paul Motian and Billy Higgins.

From the opener, "Hurricane Point," you're reminded of the Betty Davis quote from the 1950s movie All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." Morris' guitar shreds notes against the wall of rumbling bass and crush of battered drums. This opening salvo signals a take-no-prisoners session, or what Myles Boisen of Splatter Trio used to call, "club clearing music."

As intense as it is, the inner workings retain the undiluted Joe Morris guitar sound. His unique "language" persists here, it's just that he has turned his amp knob to max. The tracks remind us of Derek Bailey's experiments with drum 'n' bass. Like Bailey, the hardcore aspects may draw you in, but if you stay, it's for the musicianship.

Imagine Joe Morris playing with Napalm Death and you get an idea where we are. Morris fevered guitar on "Red Vision" invites Cretella to pattern his notes on the same pursuit and Parmelee's drums give chase, too. This version of fast and furious leads to an exhausting endpoint. Finally, after six exhausting tracks and nearly one hour of music, "Lift" opens with a quiet drum solo and some intricate scattered bass (with thunder intact), then Morris perambulates his guitar over the lumpy terrain, precipitating sparks of energy and inciting his trio into a tsunami of sound. Glorious sound. This CD is produced as a limited edition of 250 copies.

Track Listing: Hurricane Point; Giant Eye; Wherewithall; Skera; Outer Layer; Red Vision; Lift.

Personnel: Joe Morris: guitar; Chris Cretella: electric bass; Dave Parmelee: drums.

Title: Shock Axis | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Relative Pitch Records

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