Tag Archives: joe morris

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


Joe Morris @ The Stone Through the 31


An inspired improviser with an approach to the guitar both well-formulated and idiosyncratic, Joe Morris spent the last three decades refining creative ideas, playing in myriad instrumental situations, and earning what serves as fame on the free jazz scene. Now he’s written a book, Perpetual Frontier: The Properties of Free Music, which explains the quantifiable aspects of what’s oft-considered a mysterious music – “a methodology that can be used to construct a methodology,” says the bandleader and New England Conservatory teacher. The 27 gigs he’s curated at the Stone for the next two weeks will likely reveal the essence of the tome’s tenets. His current cohort stretches from Boston to Barcelona with a variety of characters uniting to make everything from doom skronk (Spanish Donkey) to chamber-prov (Ultra) to ye olde free-bop (Bass Quartet). Need an extended portrait of one man’s provocative vision? Here it is.


Fred Hersch Alive At The Vanguard (Palmetto) 

Elizabeth Cook Gospel Plow (31 Tigers)

Ry Cooder  Election Special  (Nonesuch) 

Patterson Hood  Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance (ATO)

Dave Douglas Quintet  Be Still (Greenleaf) 

3Ball MTY  Intentalo  (Universal) 

Catbirds Say Yeah   (iddy biddy) 

Miles Davis “Shhh/Peaceful”  (Columbia) 

Mark Cutler  Sweet Pain  (75 Or Less) 

Joe Morris/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver  Altitude  (AUM Fidelity) 


Donkey See, Donkey Doo

Five By Five: Andrew Hill

The first artists I learned about when initially absorbing jazz were Mingus, Monk, and Miles. Ellington came quickly, Rollins of course. These guys might be the standard toeholds for those testing out the music. But one of the “other” artists that found his way into my heart early on was Andrew Hill. I didn’t know squat about him except that, when it came to his string of Blue Note titles, allure and splendor went hand in hand. His work was richer, and a bit more complex, than several of his fellow pianists. Smokestack, Andrew!, and of course Point of Departure, were all go-to discs for me in the mid-70s. From California With Love, too, now that I think about it.

It was thrilling to watch AH have a career resurgence of sorts back in the early-to-mid aughts. He was still playing with a glorious whimsy that allowed room for lots of poetry to fleck his well-designed writing. He passed in 2oo7, but June 30 is his birthday, so I thought I’d ask a few pals about a Hill tune that they have always been impressed by. As you can see below, there’s a slight consensus regarding the knotty playing that drives his terrific trio date from 1980. Quite understandable (don’t neglect its solo mate, Faces of Hope). Thanks to the participants for taking a sec to respond.

1. Marty Ehrlich,  T.C., Dusk (Palmetto)

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I mean, you do, you try, but in Andrew’s case it was a large “passing ship” to take in. It was an honor to play with him for sure. He let me know in small ways that he didn’t want my improvising to be regular, but instinctive and expressive. You had to use your ears. Over the three or four years he did the Point of Departure Sextet, the compositions melded together in my mind as a sound world. As unique as they could be, at some point they all had a phrase or phrases that was a supplication, something that grabbed the listener from within this floating world of harmony and rhythm.

I hadn’t played with Andrew for a number of years and then he called me to do two gigs with his quintet with Charles Tolliver, John Hebert, and Eric McPherson. Musicians talk all the time about the use of space, but on these gigs it became an intense reality. The less I played in my solos, the richer the music seemed to be – like a slow-paced dance going on below the surface of the music making.

I marveled at the sound Andrew got from the piano, the way he brought out the overtones of a chord, the sense of depth in the sonic field. There was a alot of mystery going on. Maybe you can’t know it until it’s already gone. Happy Birthday, Andrew!

2. Frank Kimbrough: Domani, Shades (Soul Note) 

Recorded July 3 and 4, 1986 in Milano, it features Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, with Rufus Reid on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. The tune is in two sections: 14 bars, then 18 bars, rather than the expected 16 and 16.   It’s taken at a very fast tempo, but the rhythm section changes it up by going into a 12/8 loping feel from time to time.  Clifford’s solo is electrifying, and the slippery time feel makes it all feel very risky indeed.  This album is part quartet and part trio – my favorite trio tune from this date is “Ball Square.”

3. Russ Lossing, Strange Serenade, Strange Serenade (Soul Note) 

Pure heart and soul filtered through a sharp, but playfully restrained intellect.

4. Joe Morris, Compulsion, Compulsion (Blue Note)

Epic Andrew Hill. Great performance by the whole group. There is a beautiful collective independence on this, great dynamic intensity, and also really focused and coherent.

5. John HebertStrange Serenade (Soul Note) 

Does it have to be one track? I love Strange Serenade the whole record, with Alan Silva and Freddie Waits.  You dig?

What Andrew Hill tune do most often go back to? Plop it in “Comments” below.

Ted Panken profiles Andrew Hill. 

Our last “Five By Five” was about Jim Hall. 

Here’s some more essential Andrew Hill at Mosaic.

Here’s Ben Ratliff spinning records with AH in Jersey City.

David Adler has a wonderfully informative profile of Andrew Hill in Jazz Times. 

JoMo On The Cut

“We’re dealing with formulated abstraction rendered in a way that is, hopefully, palatable to anybody. At least over time. And it’s proven itself to be true, because if you listen to Louis Armstrong – man, anybody can like that. Little kids can listen to that. You listen to Monk now – my grandmother would like that. Coltrane – who wouldn’t like that? You can sit there drinking white wine, listening to Coltrane, and be mellow. Over time these things age. They’re completely normal, they’re part of nature. Given the course of time, it all makes sense. And I think some other stuff that’s more critically-based style-mongering – that stuff rots in a heartbeat and just sits on a shelf. People listen to bad rock and roll from the ’80s with a sense of nostalgia but it doesn’t elevate you. It’s nostalgia.” – Joe Morris speaking with Ken Vandermark 

Newport Jazz: Listen On NPR

Missed the Fest? No You Didn’t!