Joe Morris fits into the mainstream jazz guitar scene like a piranha in a kiddie pool. The Boston-based guitarist is not one of those feels-so-good stylists, coughing up borrowed commercial cliches; he's developing his own vocabulary and syntax, and telling stories in his own voice. It's no surprise that Morris is the guitarist of choice for creative improvisers like William Parker, Matthew Shipp and Joe Maneri. Morris' own recordings, with various groups on assorted labels, show what can happen when you combine idiosyncratic personal expression with extended techniques and imagination.
Morris tells three different musical stories on three recent releases. Many Rings finds him leading a quartet with legendary bassoonist Karen Borca, alto saxophonist/flutist Rob Brown and Andrea Parkins playing accordion and sampler. Instead of blowing theme and variations on standard songs, Morris lets the ensemble be the composition. An example is found on the piece "Chapel Level," which begins with Parkins scattering sampler clusters. Morris, Brown and Borca respond to her call with serpentine lines and phrases that echo, permeate and jump off in various directions. As with the rest of the CD, there's no obvious meter or tonal center. Everything is rooted in the improviser's collective ability to listen and create spontaneous harmony, pulse and structure. Of these recent releases, Many Rings is the most abstract and, for many, the most challenging. For fans of free jazz, it will be the most rewarding.