Category Archives: music

Joe Morris Mess Hall (hatOLOGY)

A fan of the imagination and agility that Joe Morris has brought to improvised music since his 1983 Wraparound debut, I’ve always marveled at the guitarist’s free-flowing lines. Teeming with notes, their ardor spills forward in an inviting manner. In the best circumstances, their accrued subtleties have the ability to swoop down and scoop up even mildly intrigued listeners.

Morris has been refining this lyrical approach for decades, and the acclaim he’s earned in last ten years suggests that his eloquence is becoming more reliable. But from time to time, he has also invested in a brash group sound that revels in volume. With a smile on his face he’s deemed these aggressive tacks his “Big Loud Electric Guitar” experiments. Mess Hall (hatOLOGY) is the conclusion of a trilogy that Morris began mapping out in the ‘80s, one that uses nuanced particulars of music theory and the ornery pleasures of noise to celebrate the joy of group interaction. Like its precursors Sweatshop and Racket Club, Mess Hall delivers a fetching jumble of sound, both cantankerous and captivating.

In his liner notes the leader recalls being inspired by Jimi Hendrix when first approaching his instrument in 1969, and while Mess Hall’s string forays include plenty of fluid fuzz, it’s there the parallels end. Comprised of drummer Jerome Deupree (the Morphine maestro who also drove the Sweatshop and Racket Club bands) and keyboardist Steve Lanter (an occasional Morris associate and inventive pianist), this is a trio that romps through these tracks to milk a collective vehemence, and a wonderfully nasty one at that. Forget the  “soloist out front with backing rhythm support” formula; as “Advanced Animal” and “Response Arena” suggest, it’s all about the shared roar.

Taut, implosive, vicious at points – Morris’ threesome burrows straight into abstraction, betting the farm on expressionistic fervor. Lantner’s electric keybs momentarily conjures the delirium of Ra’s “The Magic City”; Deupree’s pummel makes allusions to the knotty thud of Beefheart’s Magic Band. Morris, who uses effects pedals here (a break from his au natural norm), points out that one of his goals was to let pure sound impact the music’s “formulation.” In that way *Mess Hall* is a textural rumpus room, smitten with distortion – the older, angrier brother of recent discs by Slobber Pup and The Spanish Donkey that Morris has participated in. One thing’s sure: the articulation he gets when waxing specific and seductive in his comparatively quieter work doesn’t forsake him on these fierce tracks. As the violence is unpacked, the poise is revealed.

Tone Audio, page 104



Bringing It All Back Home – The Complete Basement Tapes

Guffaws spill from the speakers when Bob Dylan rolls through a boogie-slanted spin on Bo Diddley’s “Bring It To Jerome,” one of the last tracks on The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series, Vol 11 (Columbia/Legacy). As on the two takes of “The Spanish Song” that follow (which bring a cartoonish Mexican vibe and a big dash of silliness to a performance that poaches the melody of Dylan’s 1964 “To Ramona” while foreshadowing his vocals on 1976’s “Romance In Durango”) informality not only reigns, it defines every last howl, caw and wheeze of this magical music.

Released as a comprehensive six-disc box set, these mythologized 1967 sessions are all about spontaneity and experimentation. And guess what? In some ways that gives them a jazz demeanor. By putting a personal spin on a slew of traditional country, folk and blues ditties as well as some of the singer’s most striking originals ever, he and his sidekicks (you know them now as The Band) bring an improvised feel to their work – although the use of that last word is off a bit, because the most vivid of these 140 songs sound a lot like play.

A blast of background: Dylan spent a chunk of ’66 galloping through a raucous series of live dates with his backup band, once known as the Hawks and comprised of guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel, drummer Levon Helm and organist Garth Hudson. Their approach had a manic tilt, and when it ended, a major exhale was needed. The beleaguered pop star left his Manhattan digs for a Catskills artist burgh two hours above town with privacy and composure on his mind.

Mending after a motorcycle crash on the windy roads of Woodstock, the singer’s creative itch exploded anew. The band was summoned north, and afternoon gatherings commenced. Recording at chez Dylan as well as a pair of rental houses (including the now-famous “Big Pink”), the mania was replaced by a more measured approach that perhaps reflected the group’s leafy surroundings.

Messing around with ancient numbers from far-flung points of the American canon, they rolled-tape on everything from Ian Tyson jewels to “Be Careful of Stones That You Throw” to nuggets by the two Hanks (Williams and Snow) to Curtis Mayfield’s gospel pop and even “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.” As the group got its footing, schmaltz by the Fleetwoods found a nesting place near Brendan Behan’s poesy. The trajectory was scattershot, but the run-throughs accumulated – including a bounty of self-penned items such as “Nothing Was Delivered” and “Million Dollar Bash” that were by turns plaintive and droll. Ultimately their willful nonchalance forged a bounty of profound performances.

After years of incomplete bootlegs and a 1975 Columbia compilation foreshadowing the music’s ad-hoc eloquence, hearing this trove of demos and remnants united not only bolsters the notion of sessions’ importance but enhances its entertainment value. Its arrival in full bloom is like Dorothy throwing back the curtain in The Wizard of Oz; everything becomes a bit clearer. Dotted lines can be sniffed out between the lingo of “The Auld Triangle” or “Bonnie Ship the Diamond” and Dylan’s surreal “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread.” The giddy esprit that is the essence of “Kicking My Dog Around” bleeds into rock ‘n’ roll frolic of “Odds and Ends.” Those aren’t the only examples; as the tracks unpack themselves and their breadth bubbles up, formal disparities start demonstrating kinship.

Dylan zealots have already been tickled by “Please, Mrs. Henry,” “Open The Door, Homer” and other songs long associated with The Basement Tapes. On Complete – which is sonically refined and chronologically ordered – a whopping 33 previously unissued tracks buoy the narrative, contextualizing the arcs that swoop through the set. As each song dusts itself off, it’s hard not to recall a Robertson quote citing weed as a key ingredient – created during carefree afternoons, fueled by insouciance and seasoned by tomfoolery. Always meant to be heard by industry ears only (the originals first saw life as fodder for Dylan’s publishing coffers), most of the tracks boast a candor that upends the conventions usually in place when a star of this rank makes a public presentation. Their charm comes from an utter lack of artifice; the clubhouse door has been left open and yeah, it’s okay to peek in. Somewhere along the line, near the middle of “Hallelujah, I’ve Just Been Moved” perhaps, or during the last gasp of “Wild Wolf,” it becomes clear: Big Pink was coolest the man cave ever.


The Basement Tapes at Legacy Recordings

Greil on the Grail

History, Memory and Home Cooking

Branford Marsalis ‘In My Solitude: Live at the Grace Cathedral’ (OKeh)


There’s something wildly simple about Branford Marsalis’ first solo album, and it’s fetching. Instead of turning this San Francisco performance into a placard for virtuosity, the esteemed reed player spends the bulk of his presentation yielding to facility. Most everything here, from extended improvs concocted on the spot to rudimentary blues motifs essayed with eloquence, sounds like it’s coming from his horn unencumbered – thoughts made into sound, spilling forward as if they know their destination.

As a conversationalist, Branford is loquacious. Dude can spout all afternoon, and be quite captivating doing so. You get a parallel of that with his quartet work – squalls of ideas explode into a four-man fray. Here we see another side. With an array of saxophones at the ready and majestic venue that brings an aural bounce-back to each utterance (the cathedral’s natural echo is essential to the album’s sound), he’s more considerate, choosing to spotlight long tones and circumspect filigree. It’s a seductive approach, learned at the hand of his numerous classical music dates and plotted from the notion that melody – even curt cascades of song-like motifs – is central to the music experience.

The catholic interests we’ve grown accustomed to in Marsalis’ previous work mark this program. Perhaps the two bookends are Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” essayed in deeply lyrical mode that recalls Lester Young, and “MAI, Op.7,” a through-composed piece by Ryo Noda that brings aggressive textural gambits and extended pronouncements to the fore in an effort to conjure the spirit of the Japanese shakuhachi. They couldn’t be further apart esthetically, but find value by giving this show an ambitious breadth.

Perhaps most impressive are the four improvs Marsalis creates. Each is reflective, casual, and full of candor. Like some unholy middle ground between Sonny Rollins’ The Solo Album and John Klemmer’s Solo Saxophone II, Branford has dropped a soliloquy that speaks in tongues.

From the new DownBeat

Chickie Baby

NPR Previews The Basement Tapes – First Listen

If you want to get a taste of the Dylan box, NPR has you covered. Kinda lovin’ “Johnny Todd” and the Hank Snow cover.

That NPR preview est mort. Here’s the Spotify teaser.

Legacy explains the whole thing.

Bob talks Basement

If There’s Something About My My Kissing That Don’t Please You, Just Tell Me And I’ll Change That Too