Widely revered in avant-garde music circles for his innovative approach to the electric guitar, Joe Morris' decision to take up the contrabass in 2002 was initially met with apprehension from certain corners of the new music community. Fears that the singular guitarist might disavow his primary axe have been dispelled, replaced by a burgeoning parallel discography charting Morris' remarkable growth as a bassist.
Wildlife is the most recent document of Morris' increasingly impressive bass prowess and his first release for AUM Fidelity since 2001's solo guitar recording Singularity. For this freewheeling trio session, Morris partners with Luther Gray, his preferred drummer since 2002. A ubiquitous member of the Boston-based jazz scene, Gray's nuanced abilities have blossomed considerably since his seminal work in the late eighties Washington D.C. punk rock scene.
A former student of Morris, saxophonist Petr Cancura is a rising presence whose sideman duties have included stints with Bob Moses and Danilo Pérez. Originally from the Czech Republic, the current Brooklyn resident has recorded a number of sessions with Morris, including Fine Objects (Not Two, 2009), a trio date with drummer Jason Nazary. Wildlife deviates from the previous album's reliance on originals and standards, braving more adventurous territory over four lengthy free improvisations.
The trio embraces a wide range of spatial dynamics on this expansive set, with the majority of their probing explorations conjuring the bristling frenzy of New Thing era expressionism. Cancura's vocalized phrasing, brisk intervallic runs and brawny timbre invokes such giants of the genre as Ayler, Coltrane, Sanders and Shepp. A singular stylist, Cancura's assimilation of his forbearers' innovations is seamlessly integrated into his own uniquely lyrical approach to alto and tenora kinetic attack buoyed by a pungent tone.
Gray's bustling percussion provides the trio with a malleable rhythmic foundation, ably demonstrated by his extended work-out on the rousing post-bop excursion "Geomantic." Navigating capricious shifts in meter, tempo and volume, Morris displays his burgeoning virtuosity with stalwart flair. His extended solos on "Thicket" and "Nettle" reveal a composer's awareness, alternating oblique harmonic variations with percussive invention. Drawing from both Eastern and Western traditions, his bright, guimbre-like pizzicato lends a lilting North African modality to "Thicket," while his laconic phrasing on the introspective ballad "Crow" ebbs with blues feeling.
The trio's congenial interplay is superlative, whether careening through the quicksilver changes of "Nettle" or extrapolating the somber motifs of "Crow." A compelling document of the saxophone trio tradition as a democratic exchange of ideas, Wildlife presents three masterful improvisers at the top of their game.
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Geomantic; Thicket; Crow; Nettle.
Joe Morris: bass; Petr Cancura: alto and tenor saxophone; Luther Gray: drums.