Remarkably, despite their heftily prolific discographies and the fact that their list of collaborators comprises a Venn diagram with little non-overlapping space, Altitude marks the first time that Joe Morris, William Parker and Gerald Cleaver have worked together as a trio. The occasion was a two-week stint for AUM Fidelity owner Steven Joerg as guest curator of John Zorn’s no-frills East Village club the Stone.
In his liner notes, Morris recalls the evening being a memorably sweaty June night in the infamously suffocating non-air-conditioned room, but the discomfort doesn’t show on the record. The two collectively improvised sets are all about forward motion, all three players enjoying a constant propulsion.
The first of the evening’s two sets is represented in its entirety, somewhat arbitrarily divided in two around the halfway mark. “Exosphere” begins with a few first, tenuous steps, quickly snowballing into a slippery choreography, Morris wiry and elusive, Parker wandering in his stoically effusive manner, Cleaver whispering and surging. Morris later delves deeply into his rubbery bottom notes, forming a low-end ouroboros with Parker. At the trio’s most energetic, Cleaver provides a perpetually shifting floor that his acrobatic compatriots stealthily maneuver. The second half, “Thermosphere,” is more taut and dense, finally compacting into skating, borealis-like pulsations.
Two shorter sections from the second set follow, which find Parker trading his bass for the zintir, an oud-like African instrument. The first set’s second half begins with the bassist suggesting an African groove, to which Morris responds with a jubilant melody suggestive of Malian music. That impulse is followed more strongly in these excerpts, with Parker’s recursive, percussive zintir and chanting adding a celebratory, ritual aspect to these pieces.