Bassist Chris Morrissey effortlessly straddles the worlds of jazz and indie pop

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Bassist Chris Morrissey is hardly alone in living a kind of musical double life, earning his wage with indie rock and pop bands (Ben Kweller, Sara Bareilles, and Andrew Bird, among others, including his own group, Taurus), but pouring much of his free time into jazz. The Minneapolis native, who moved to New York in 2009, has just released North Hero (Sunnyside), the second quartet album under his own leadership, and like its four-year-old predecessor The Morning World, rather than separating them, it explicitly combines elements of his twin musical universes. It's definitely a jazz record, but its often-sweet melodies and rhythmic feel are imported from the pop-rock world without constricting the performances.

It certainly helps that he's surrounded by players equally fluent in various styles. Saxophonist and fellow Minneapolitan Michael Lewis has worked with Bird and Bon Iver, as well as the indie-jazz trio Happy Apple, whose drummer Dave King produced North Hero—King also played on Morrissey's first quartet album. Drummer Mark Guiliana plays with Morrissey in singer Gretchen Parlato's group—which traffics heavily in R&B—and pianist Aaron Parks has always worn his pop-rock influences on his sleeves as well. I thoroughly enjoyed The Morning World, but compared with the new record it feels both a bit fussy and impatient. Part of that quality can be attributed to King, who plays with manic ferocity in nearly all contexts, but it also feels less self-conscious, like Morrissey has nothing to prove. He's comfortable where he is, and the band here feels confident and united. On "One Worn Mile," named for a stretch of I-94 between his old home and the one belonging to an ex, the group nails a slow, enticingly bumpy swing groove, as if they were retracing that path after a long night—exhausted yet content. Both Lewis and Parks deliver wonderfully fat-free, bluesy solos that ripple with that aforementioned feeling, and the theme contains a catchy, pop-worthy tunefulness that keeps pulling me back in. You can check it out below.

On a piece like the amusingly titled "Hands Crystals Anderson" (Morrissey's tweak on the state of indie rock band names) Guiliana plays a tightly coiled groove that could've been on an old Neu! album, while the opening track "The Spirit of Chanhassen" rolls along on a tamped-down groove that might've been swiped from an old ZZ Top album. The infectious, sideways swing lope of "Midland Texas Picnic Area" leaves no doubt that this is a jazz record, albeit one that's unafraid of tripping itself up if it leads to interesting improvisational choices. It's a handsome, accessible recording, but it's substantial too. Morrissey seems to be casually clearing the way for one potential path for jazz to progress into the future, and I'm eager to see where it leads.

Today's playlist:

Eli Keszler, Catching Net (Pan)
Forma, Off/On (Spectrum Spools)
Bill Fay, Life is People (Dead Oceans)
Bengt Hallberg, All Star Sessions 1953/54 (Dragon)
Bessie Jones, Put Your Hand on Your Hip and Let Your Backbone Slip (Rounder)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.

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