Tag Archives: Joe Morris

Free Jazz review by Chris Haines

CF306Joe Morris Quartet – Balance (CF 306)
Joe Morris is probably the most important guitarist working within free music at present. He has a wealth of recordings dating back over the last three decades and has been particularly prolific with various projects during the last few years. However, for me, I always feel that he produces his most important work in his quartet format. This particular recording pulls together his string-based quartet of Mat Maneri (viola), Chris Lightcap (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) and himself on electric guitar. This is the same line-up that produced the extraordinary album Underthru, and the same instrumentation as the excellent A Cloud Of Black Birds.

Joe Morris has a unique style and nobody else quite sounds like him especially when he is playing electric guitar in a more free jazz type setting, which as you would expect from this line-up is the mode of expression explored on this album. With the instrumentation that is involved the music has a chamber feel at times, particularly on the more introspective pieces such as Trust, but can be equally full-on as well. As with all good quartet writing and playing the focus is shared throughout the instrumentation and each musical personality comes to the fore right the way through the album, giving good contrast and balance to the material and the album as a whole.

All the pieces appear quite aptly titled with the first piece Thought being a complex but static texture that bubbles underneath the surface as if the ensemble is contemplating the musical excursion to come. This then moves into the second track Effort, which in contrast to the first piece contains a lot more ideas, textures and interplay. Although all tracks have single word titles I wouldn’t say that the musical pieces are summed-up by them, but rather give the listener a starting point which the music illustrates and explores further. This seems like an obvious thing to say, but I listen to so much music that doesn’t do this that when I finally hear music that does it so well it’s so refreshing to dwell on this simple fact. As you would expect from four excellent improvisers the playing contained within is a delight to listen to with Morris and Maneri being on particularly good form and shouldering the responsibility of holding down most of the foreground material.

Although showing what could be considered abstract tendencies the music seems to be contained by larger forms and alludes to fast bop-type pieces as well as ballad-like forms, chamber pieces, and free improvisations, which are all spun through Morris’s personal musical vision and incredible technique, resulting in the type of sound-world that only he can muster in this way. If you have heard his free jazz styled music before, (although Morris would consider all his music to be just ‘free music’ with no distinction) then you won’t be disappointed by Balance. If you haven’t heard a Joe Morris album before then this wouldn’t be a bad place to start, although I personally feel that Underthru just has the edge on it. However, this is a very welcome release from an important improvising musician, whom for my money works at his best within this particular format.



The New York City Jazz Record review by Andrey Henkin

CF 263Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love – Kampen (NoBusiness)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten New York Quartet – Now Is (Clean Feed)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten Chicago Sextet – Live at Jazz Festival Saalfelden 2011 (Textite)
Williams/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Tim Daisy – Moments FormMars (Idyllic Noise)
Bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten has, since the mid ‘90s, established himself as one of the bonafide stars on his instrument. One need only look at two of his most compelling collaborations – Scandinavian power trio The Thing and delicate Norwegian sax-bass duo with Håkon Kornstad – to realize he can do it all. In between those two poles are dozens of partnerships, either of long-standing or wonderfully ephemeral, which further demonstrate his range and musical vision. It has helped immensely that his experience is bi-continental: after coming up in Norway and then the larger European scene, he moved to Chicago and immersed himself in that vibrant community and now lives in one of America’s musical centers – Austin, TX.

Three of the four albums under review are live recordings from 2010-12; three of the four are fully improvised; Håker Flaten is matched with longtime partners and new associates under his own name twice and as part of collective groups; Chicago, New York and Europe are represented. All are just slices of Håker Flaten’s oeuvre.

Kampen is the oldest, a November 2010 concert recording from Oslo. Joining Håker Flaten is cornet player Bobby Bradford, saxophonist Frode Gjerstad and fellow Thingee Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The album opens with a short duet between Bradford and Håker Flaten before Gjerstad and Nilssen-Love skitter in alongside them. Gjerstad’s ear-piercing tone can be trying but it’s leavened by the richer tones of his bandmates. Despite the bassist and drummer’s extensive familiarity with each other, this is a generally balanced and probing improv session, squarely in the low-peaks-and-shallow-valleys school. Håker Flaten and Bradford, born nearly 40 years and 4,500 miles apart , are nicely paired. The proceedings vary whether an improvised moment derives its melodic content from Gjerstad’s freneticism or Bradford’s prodding.

Now Is continues and expands a partnership between Håker Flaten and saxophonist/trumpeter Joe McPhee, heard to great effect on a pair of duo recordings on Not Two and Clean Feed. Joining them are guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter Nate Wooley for a July 2011 studio recording made right before the same quartet played at The Stone. With the exception of “As If”, the eight NYC-related (in title at least, with nods to some of the metropolitan sports teams, “Rangers” perhaps expressing frustration in a team without a championship in almost 20 years) pieces are spontaneous creations and refreshingly short. There is a nice contrast between the warbly horns and the crisp snap of the strings, no one necessarily pushing to the forefront but no one tentative either. And there are enough snatches of melody and form perhaps to imply some discussion before hand but certainly careful listening throughout. The longest track,the nearly 10-minute “Pent”, introduces a blues sensibility through Håker Flaten’s elephantine walk.

In August 2011, Håker Flaten brought his Chicago Sextet to the Saalfelden Festival in Austria. Players like guitarist Jeff Parker, saxophonist Dave Rempis, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and drummer Frank Rosaly are all veterans of the modern Chicago avantjazz scene; fellow Norwegian, violinist Ole Kvernberg, is the interesting addition for these four Håker Flaten compositions. The textural mix of “Virgoan Ways” recalls gauzier moments of ‘70s fusion, à la Jean-Luc Ponty, with some occasional similarity to the writing, except for sparse, open sections colored by vibraphone declamations. “Rosewood Avenue” slips in via the leader’s electronics and vamps on the simple theme that pokes its head out amid the digitized brambles. “Wells”, another short piece, too has its foundation in electronics but sharply contrasts what preceded it by approximating the frenzy of an air raid. The closing “Irrational Ceremony” returns to the Ponty vibe of the first piece, but now from his King Kong period (no surprise that both bands have very similar instrumentation). HåkerFlaten doesn’t indulge this side of his playing too often- the last time may have been 2005’s Quintet (also with Kvernberg) – which is a shame since he has a unique take on what is otherwise a calcified genre.

The most recent disc is a live trio date from Austria, recorded in March 2012, Håker Flaten one side of an equilateral triangle with Chicagoans Mars Williams(saxophones) and Tim Daisy (drums). Three improvised pieces of descending length make up Moments Form. Williams is a bit of an outlier in improvised circles, with as many credits in avant rock as jazz but he is a forceful member of the Windy City saxophone lineage and the sound of this group is closest to some of The Thing’s earthier moments, buoyed by Håker Flaten’s thick propulsiveness. Speaking of lineage, though a modern session, there are aesthetic allusions to earlier trio dates by the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Albert Ayler and even Sonny Rollins. The nuances of Håker Flaten’s bass are a bit hard to hear when the trio is going full blast, more of a feeling, not unlike Tom Araya on Slayer’s Reign in Blood, but the ear becomes accustomed to filling in the details as the set progresses. Daisy, as was always evident from his work with the Vandermark 5, is as flexible as his bandmates. The middle piece, “Galactic Ballet”, is a masterful example of slow, simmering improvisation, which almost boils over before the heat is turned down at the end.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

CF 263Ingebrigt Haker Flaten New York Quartet – Now Is (CF 263)
When people in the jazz avant camp emerge from the scene gigging and recording with some heavy cats, there is always a reason. Contrabassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten is certainly one of those lately. And the reason is that he can really play. So when he puts together a disk with some of the heaviest cats, his New York Quartet doing Now Is (Clean Feed 263), it is an affirmation.  Heavy cats? Mr. Joe McPhee on tenor, Mr. Joe Morris on guitar, and Mr. Nate Wooley on trumpet. That qualifies as heavy. Each is a leader on his instrument, a bandleader in his own right, and the melding of all four on a free date is all you’d hope for.   This is a drummerless group, which makes Flaten’s bass playing stand out all the more. The result is four equal solo voices engaging in dense free counterpoint.   Everybody is in good form. It’s something excellent to sink your ears in.

Jazz.pt review by João Moço

CF 263Ingebrigt Haker Flaten New York Quartet – Now Is (CF 263)
Existem ideias musicais que, quando condensadas num curto período de tempo, ganham mais impacto emocional do que se fossem prolongadas o máximo possível. Daí que não saibam a pouco estes 39 minutos de improviso de Ingebrigt Haker Flaten com verdadeiros gigantes como Joe McPhee, Joe Morris e Nate Wooley.   A música que aqui se ouve vive de uma enorme riqueza harmónica, de uma sabedoria enorme sobre como chegar a uma abordagem próxima dos blues. Saber improvisar sem cair nos clichés do experimentalismo não é para todos. Mas Flaten, McPhee, Morris e Wooley sabem como poucos.

Free Jazz review by Paolo Casertano

CF 263Ingebrigt Håker Flaten NY Quartet – Now Is (CF 263)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten has already led under his own name an interesting quintet composed of renowned and young musicians (Dave Rempis, Frank Rosaly, the young and gifted guitarist Anders Hana to name a few) releasing two albums on Jazzland Recordings with the solid and eminent production of Bob Weston.

By the way I imagine that the responsibility of being the leader of such a stellar quartet as the one we have here featuring Joe McPhee on tenor saxophone, Joe Morris on guitar and Nate Wooley on trumpet is some kind of different. Especially if you consider that, according to the liner notes, there is only one written composition in the album and the rest of the music comes totally improvised. Who is going to tell for example to McPhee that the approach he may be following in a passage is even just slightly diverse from what you have in mind? Clearly, not me. It goes also without saying that being “the leader” in a more or less extended ensemble doesn’t mean to be the one dictating rules to impose his own instrument on the others.

This is a no piano and no drums quartet and many of the eight tracks of the album are largely built as bass/guitar duets that, working in a compact interplay, give to the brass section the chance to focus on lyricism. At the same time, even when trumpet and sax are phrasing synchronically with vigour, they rarely result as preponderant on the strings section. I like the versatility of Flaten’s style moving nimbly through a clean pizzicato and squawking notes as you may hear in the opening “Port” or in the dramatic bowing passages that gracefully link the two muted trumpets in the background of the acoustic guitar-driven “Times” (one of my favourites). “Pent” is the longest episode of the work and there is enough room for a bass solo setting a bluesy atmosphere that McPhee clearly enjoys (and that’s probably why Wooley answers him with bebop and Morris then thinks that some manouche can’t be wrong either). But the chemistry works well also when the musicians go for extended techniques moments as in “Knicks” or in frenzied interplays as in “Giants” (together with the title of another track –  “Rangers” – there’s an obvious reference to the three famous NY teams of basket, football and hockey).

I like the modular structure of “As if” where the bass/trumpet dialogue is at first hindered by the growing and wearing synchronic “singsonging” of the guitar and the saxophone. But roles in life as in music are bound to change and so, after a brief guitar/bass alliance, it comes the time of Morris’s guitar to be faced by the very same hammering chant of bass during his solo. Flaten seems to win because in the last minute Morris is again seduced by the hypnotic two notes phrase and re-joins him. But you know, life goes on and the bass player has already gone ahead for a new, just a bit evolved but always lullabying (a scale), litany together with the sax…

I can’t avoid thinking how it could have sounded this album with Paal Nilssen-Love behind all the other musicians sharing one time more the traditional rhythmic session with his long time pal on double bass.

Tomajazz review by Pachi Tapiz

CF 263Ingebrigt Haker Flaten New York Quartet: Now Is (CF 263)
Coincidiendo con su paso por el neoyorkino The Stone, el contrabajista Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (Atomic, The Thing) pasó por el estudio Systems Two de Brooklyn para grabar en formato de cuarteto (sin batería ni piano) una sesión de improvisación libre (excepto en su tema “As If”) en compañía del saxofonista (aquí exclusivamente al tenor) Joe McPhee, el trompetista Nate Wooley y el (aquí) guitarrista (en vez de contrabajista, su otra ocupación como instrumentista) Joe Morris. Una formación de grandes en eso del jazz y la libre improvisación  más interesantes de hoy en día que presentaba distintos nexos en común: McPhee y Haker Flaten han grabado en dúo, lo mismo que Morris y Wooley. No obstante el entendimiento entre los cuatro músicos no estuvo dominado por estas asociaciones ya conocidas, sino que a lo largo del disco resulta sorprendentemente deslumbrante el entendimiento mostrado por el contrabajista y el guitarrista. Los ocho temas, más cortos que lo habitual en grabaciones de improvisación libre, en algunos casos son pequeñas porciones (con sentido en sí mismas, incluyendo su planteamiento, desarrollo y conclusión) de creaciones instantáneas más extensas. La música muestra una gran variedad de elementos que sirven para dar soporte a esta opción creativa y estilística, que aquí van desde un himno con un carácter casi ayleriano, elementos del blues, o del free jazz en foma de totum revolutum o más estructurado. La selección de la música incluida, que  no llegue a los cuarenta minutos de duración, sirve para mostrar a estos cuatro gigantes a pleno rendimiento, a la vez que resulta un aperitivo ideal para quien quiera degustar una ración de libre improvisación de primera.

Le Son du Grisli review by Luc Bouquet

CF 263Ingebright Håker Flaten NY Quartet – Now Is (CF 263)
Trente-neuf petites minutes seulement pour inspecter le New York Quartet d’Ingebright Håker Flaten (Joe McPhee, Nate Wooley, Joe Morris). Trente-neuf petites minutes inquiétant l’harmonie (Times) et se glissant dans une pénombre sonique assumée (Pent).

Ici, faire se dresser la mélodie ; ailleurs, faire appel au free sans y convier cris et fureurs. Et ne pas s’interdire les solos (solo cabré de Joe Morris in As If) pas plus que la douceur des souffles (McPhee in Post). Et surtout : faire accroc au jazz tout en se l’appropriant. Ne pas rejeter ses zones d’inquiétudes et de turbulences (McPhee, toujours lui, in Giants). Puis, sans recourir à la violence, se dégager de la pénombre inaugurale. Tout cela pour faire de Now Is, un disque passionnant si ce n’est passionné.