Joe Morris | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Joe Morris


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Joe Morris

It's not enough for guitarist Joe Morris to have one of the most original approaches to the jazz trio in contemporary music. As his first solo album, the recently released No Vertigo (Leo), attests, he's hell-bent on keeping each facet of his playing (trio, solo, quartet, etc) distinct. Though his playing on 1993's terrific trio recording Symbolic Gesture used single-note lines to unfold a rich lyricism with a pulsing groove, his solo conception is altogether different. In the new album's liner notes Morris claims inspiration from pianist Cecil Taylor, and he does apply Taylor's dense clusters of whirling, expressive sound to the guitar. It's impossible to condense the piano's range onto six strings--as Morris admits--but his simulation is remarkable. Some acoustic-guitar pieces feature dense multilinear improvisations underlined by a faint pulse--his deftness defying what you'd think five fingers could do. Once you get used to Morris's fingerpicking ability, you can relish the harmonic sophistication of the overlapping lines--their subtlety and relation to one another. Morris uses the same approach on mandolin and banjouke (a ukulele with a banjo head), achieving a higher-pitched, more brittle sound. A number of electric-guitar pieces explore the linear style he uses in his group work, though the beautiful filigree he crafts from just a few static notes on a piece like "For Aldolphus Mica" offers an attention to detail not heard in his trio recordings. It's not easy music, but Joe Morris's dedication to breaking new ground has yielded some breathtaking results. This is his first solo gig in town. Wednesday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600. Peter Margasak

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anne Marcotty.

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