JOE MORRIS

Age Of Everything
Riti CD 004

Joe Morris has a unique challenge. As one of the few guitarists who has

achieved a post-Coltrane approach to the six-string he must ensure that the dense flow of swirling motion he produces doesn’t overpower the tunes and/or his sidemen.

Luckily, on this CD, his first in a long time on his own newly reactivated label, he seems to have brokered a compromise between technique and emotion. Not unrelated to this achievement is that the masterful guitarist has two accomplished players at his side here and as his working group. Additionally, this CD showcases some of his most fluid, elegantly inventive — and non frightening for mainstreamers — playing. If anything, his cleanly articulated approach appears to be a modern variation of the sort of licks Barney Kessel or Tal Farlow produced in abundance.

Now Connecticut-based, Morris has been playing since he was 14 and, with the exception of a few lessons is self-taught. Recording for more than 20 years, he established himself in both New York and Boston at different times and has performed with other exploratory musicians ranging from saxophonists John Butcher and Ken Vandermark to violist Mat Maneri and bassoon player Karen Borca. His preference has been for trio playing and this CD demonstrates why.

Morris has said that he tucks and turns his licks to construct something new out of the old. And there are times on the aptly titled “Telepathy” that you have the nagging feeling that he’s quoting some half-forgotten standard mid-way through his solo. Backed by the strummed, guitar-like lines of bassist Timo Shanko, who does double duty as a member of Boston’s Fully Celebrated Orchestra, Morris takes the bass-introduced theme and elaborates it with skipping bent notes, skidding up the fret board and sliding down onto the bass clef. Often he uses both hands in the centre of the guitar strings, with the finger tips of one hand darting onto the strings that are being plucked with a plectrum held in the other. Never orotund, jagged single notes are played staccatissimo, as if he were Coltrane at his most instrumentally verbose.

Intervals are wider on the title track, with the melody slower and bluesier. Playing andante, Morris seems to be working in a circular motion, though every note is bell clear. Here, as elsewhere on the disc he appears to be dipping more into the darker bass regions during his solo, perhaps because he’s following a parallel career as an acoustic bassist in a standard piano trio configuration. On this tune, though, it’s Shanko, playing adagio, whose work relies on the constant repetition of undersea low notes.

While Morris may prefer to play staccato, often slurring his attack and spearing aerial notes out of the atmosphere, there are times, as in one passage in “Way In” where he seems to be quoting “Let’s Face The Music and Dance”. No matter, Shanko’s bull fiddle stays restrained, mirroring the mellow portion of the guitarist’s work, while drummer Luther Gray, who also works in guitarist Mitch Seidman’s trio and in duo with woodwind player Daniel Ian Smith appears unfazed. An effects man, rather than a beat maniac, Gray appears to be hitting on the wood and sides of his kit as much as the drum skins. And he also weaves his cymbal patterns in and out of the tune.

Morris has faced the guitar challenge by flat-picking and finger pressing as he downplays amplifier and pedal effects. Whether he unleashes an accelerated blizzard of tones or produces a simple flow of pinpointed single notes, he proves equal to every task here. What this means is that he’s created his most distinctive CD to date.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Tree Branch 2. Way In 3. Age Of Everything 4. Telepathy

Personnel: Joe Morris (guitar); Timo Shanko (bass); Luther Gray (drums)