Until now, sheer variety has distinguished Chris Morrissey. His 2009 debut, The Morning World, was vigorous but pixelated, like a photomosaic: Each track was a bullet point of something else the bassist could be. North Hero is a more focused, intense and ultimately more beautiful picture of who he is.
Morrissey isn’t half as concerned with genre as with the emotional needs of his songs, although it’s hard to ignore the traceable elements of indie-rock: hard edge, folk simplicity and DIY ethos. That aesthetic has everything to do with pianist Aaron Parks (whose Invisible Cinema from 2008 is a Rosetta Stone for indie-jazz), saxophonist Mike Lewis, drummer Mark Guiliana and production by the Bad Plus’ David King. On the album’s Kickstarter page, Morrissey also cites a “Midwestern school of thought” (for coastal readers, that roughly translates to understated lyricism).
On “The Spirit of Chanhassen,” piano chords à la ZZ Top’s “La Grange” pound under a melody that’s clean and urgent. “Minor Silverstein” gives breathing room to Lewis’ quiet fire; his melody is a slow rustle, a knot pulling loose. The quartet takes an angular romp through appropriately conservative jazz territory on “Midland, Texas Picnic Area,” and Guiliana beats the path to stranger vistas on “Roman Subway.” Morrissey generally keeps his playing spare, leaving poignant postscripts to Parks’ vamp on “Lullaby for Twins.”
The band is tight throughout, but on “Electric Blanket”—the album’s final track—they reach a sound that’s larger, grander and somehow more gorgeous than the sum of their parts. Coming up, Morrissey has been a musician for all seasons. On North Hero, he sounds like one whose time has come.