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Joe Morris Quartet: Today on Earth

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To say that Boston-based electric guitarist/upright bassist Joe Morris is prolific would be an obvious understatement. In 2009 alone he released six albums, including this quartet disc. But what’s truly astonishing is the stylistic spectrum he traverses: one lineup and an hour of music simply do not cover the multitude of ideas this man possesses. Today on Earth, his current quartet’s second album, may be one of Morris’ more accessible offerings, yet still contains the kind of challenging, jagged melodies and intuitive, spatial improvisations we’ve come to expect.

One reason why this quartet locks in so deftly has to do with percussionist Luther Gray’s and bassist Timo Shanko’s longtime associations with Morris. Since 2002, Gray has contributed to many different Morris recordings with his incredibly light touch and colorful drum tuning; depending on the composition, he can swing as heartily as Blakey or drop a lithe African rhythm. Shanko demonstrates equal aplomb, plowing muscularly through the vigorous postbop of “Backbone” and the flamenco-esque flourishes of the Eastern-inflected “Observer.”

The dynamic interplay between the rhythm section allows Morris and alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs (Shanko’s long-standing bandmate in the Fully Celebrated Orchestra) to solo with adroitness, though neither uses this as a platform to fall into predictable “fire” mode. Morris’ tone is clean throughout, every note picked with precision, clarity and purpose, while Hobbs makes a suitable foil with his brightly hued projection. Their unison playing on tunes like “Embarrassment of Riches” and “Imaginary Solutions” is reminiscent of early ’60s Ornette and ’70s Steve Lacy.

Ultimately, with its largely contemplative atmosphere and sympathetic interplay, the quartet successfully articulates what Morris intended with the album title: “a reminder to have a simple instant of realization, a second of reflection about our lives standing on this planet floating in the universe.”

Originally Published