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.