Monday, January 5, 2015

Joe Morris Quartet, Balance

Guitarist Joe Morris has over the years virtually single-handedly carved out his own free-form avant jazz idiom on his instrument. By now he is at a classic stage where it all flows together with inventive grace. You can hear him at a high artistic altitude these days virtually in whatever he does. But it is especially true of the recent quartet album he made, Balance (Clean Feed 306).

Part of that has to do with having Mat Maneri on viola in the front line. He too has honed his art so that phrasings fall naturally from his instrument that manage to be both very idiomatic to the open tonality that Joe favors, yet also completely original in note choice and with a genuine feel for getting a darkly burnished tone from his viola. There is never a question of him sounding like a violinist. And this tone blends wonderfully well, especially when Joe emphasizes his middle-range.

With Chris Lightcap on contrabass the quartet has moments where there is a sort of string trio feel born of the three together. Chris can bow and pizz with real artistry and makes for an excellent addition to the sound. Then Gerald Cleaver on drums has that immediacy (especially it seems of late) of an unforced natural freedom that listens to what is going on and creates a fourth voice that is not the obvious but works extremely well in the four-way conversation.

This is a six-segment set that brings in various moods and subtleties with a togetherness that has as much a group dynamic as it does inventive soloing. If for any reason you don't know Joe Morris' work this is a great place to start. And if you already do this one gives you some of his very best. Either way, it is one to hear!

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