Eloping With the Sun
Guitarist Joe Morris' recently revived Riti label recently turned out a few limited-edition releases. Whether or not Morris kick-started the old label to document his nascent multi-instrumentalist activities is up for conjecture, but it sure seems like it: three recent CDs feature Morris on different instruments.
Eloping With the Sun (Riti) finds not just Morris but also William Parker and Hamid Drake setting aside their regular instruments for folkier doubles. Drake and Parker lay the foundation with the frame drum and zintir, respectively. Morris trades his electric guitar for the pinched, percussive twang of the banjo and banjouke. The instrumentation gives the group an earthier, more rustic sound-some imaginary space between Appalachian folk and Middle Eastern drone-which they feature at length on several long, repetitive pieces. Bits of conversation in the background of a few songs allude to the casual nature of the recording, which sounds as if recorded by the trio while sitting cross-legged on the floor. Morris has plenty of solo space on the disc, as Drake and Parker content themselves with setting a groove and sticking with it for minutes on end. The heart of the music is Drake and Parker's slowly evolving rhythms, however, which leaves Morris standing off to the side.
Morris takes a much more nuanced and central role in another recent Riti release, a recording by drummer Whit Dickey's Trio Ahxoloxha titled Prophet Moon. Morris shows up here on his familiar ax, the undistorted electric guitar, which Dickey sets against the punchy cries of Rob Brown's alto sax to great effect. On Prophet, Brown and Morris share an admirably economic style: Behind Dickey's expansive polyrhythms, both players trade exciting, compact statements, and both command just as much attention in well-crafted supporting roles. Some credit also belongs to Dickey's mysterious tunes, which manage to express a great calmness even during high-energy moments and juggle structure and freedom without revealing how much of each is involved at any one time. Prophet gets better and better as it goes, hitting a mighty stride on "Telling Moment," a tune that sadly fades out without a proper ending.
Then, from out in left field, Morris debuts his bass-playing skills on pianist Steve Lantner's Saying So. Morris keeps a low profile here-buzzing drones, distant rumbles and quickly moving lines set just below the surface-which is just as well, since the real star of this show is Lantner. The pianist and his trio play in a wildly creative albeit gentlemanly free-improvisational style that draws from an unusual source (for free players, at least). This trio does not recall the egalitarian piano trios of, say, Bill Evans, or the thick abstraction of the post-Cecil Taylor school so much as it skips right back to the mainstream bebop piano trio sound of the '50s, though subsequently refracted through an abstract, thoroughly modern idiom. Lantner himself plays with a precise attack, a light touch and a hint of swing. He loves the sound of fluttering trills and delicate chord clusters. What seems like pieces of bebop and stride turn up in his freely improvised lines, which float out and apart like melodies set loose in outer space. His band, a standard piano trio lineup, gives him plenty of support. Drummer Laurence Cook works especially well with the pianist, lining and embellishing what Lantner gives him with an equally light touch.