There's a passage on "Rock," the final track on his acoustic solo album Singularity (Aum Fidelity, 2001), where Joe Morris sounds less like a single guitarist than a small African string ensemble: a rapid arpeggio gives way to a droning thrum, a single-string snap, and a delicate two-note melody. It's one of many wonderfully dense moments on this album that make your head swim as you try to follow the various threads. Morris's lyrical solos follow their own zigzagging paths rather than heed verse-chorus-verse structures. His improvisations unfold tight coils of clean notes and damped-string tones, and his broken melodies sound like someone smashed a John Fahey record and then glued it back together with the pieces in the wrong places. This kind of idea-loaded complexity seems a departure for Morris, whose older work is characterized by long, melodic single-note lines, but it's just the latest in a career of willful changes. His recent work alone includes Voices Lowered (Leo, 2001), on which his brittle electric playing sits uneasily among Steven Lantner's fractured piano riffs and Joe Maneri's microtonal saxophone swoops, and Eloping With the Sun (Riti, 2002), where Morris's banjo and banjouke improvisations pulse along with William Parker's basslike zintir and Hamid Drake's drumming for an avant-garde Moroccan hoedown. Morris has two Chicago gigs this weekend, his first appearances here in three years. On Thursday he plays duets with Ken Vandermark as part of WNUR's annual Chicago Sounds Jazz Fest. The next night, Morris will play solo. Thursday, October 9, 7 PM, McCormick Auditorium, Norris Student Center, Northwestern University, 1870 Campus Dr., Evanston; 773-841-2870. Friday, October 10, 9:30 PM, 3030, 3030 W. Cortland; 773-862-3616.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Wilderman.