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JOE MORRIS

Phenomenal guitarist Joe Morris released his debut album in 1982 and hasn't stopped moving since. With his dry, brittle, effects-free tone, his acute awareness of the pulse, and his dogged avoidance of traditional solo structure, he's become the most original stylist of the last decade. But for years he's also made a concerted effort to choose projects that don't allow him to repeat himself--each new group he performs in somehow changes the complexion of his playing. Recent pairings with a couple different sax-drums-bass improv trios, for instance, yielded dramatically different outcomes: On Registered Firm (Incus), with the wild-and-woolly English trio Hession-Wilkinson-Fell, he delivers some of the most frenzied and explosive playing in his recorded career, plucking furiously to match the maniacal attack of his cohorts. But though the new Deep Telling (Okka Disk), with Chicago's DKV Trio, has just as much power, it's deployed with less overdrive and greater blues feeling; going up against Ken Vandermark's burly tenor, Morris sounds less hurried, and their conversation in the beautiful "Narrative" is measured and tender. Far removed from both those efforts is Racket Club (About Time), a 1993 session just now hitting the shelves, where Morris leads an electric sextet that recalls Ornette Coleman's off-kilter funk unit Prime Time. (Jim Hobbs's alto is rife with buoyant Coleman-isms, and at times Morris, in his own peculiar way, recalls the body-moving splendor of James "Blood" Ulmer.) Underthru (Omnitone), my favorite of Morris's recent releases, is a subdued but fluid swinging quartet date, rich with earthy, finely detailed melodies and marked by keen intuition--microtonal violinist Mat Maneri follows Morris like a tape recorder with a faulty pitch control. The group Morris brings to Chicago plays on yet another recent recording, Many Rings (Knitting Factory Works): alto saxophonist and flutist Rob Brown, bassoonist Karen Borca, and accordionist and sampler whiz Andrea Parkins. The drummerless combo assembles its music like a puzzle, every irregular shape somehow fitting perfectly with every other. Thursday, January 20, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

PETER MARGASAK

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