Joe Morris’ current quartet is essentially the Steve Lantner Quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum in place of Lantner, but the leader’s force of personality cuts such a casual summation off at the knees. A transparent band name abolishes any lingering doubt as to leader or his choice of instrument. An avoidance of obfuscation governs the music as well. Morris isn’t one for oblique intimations of intent and each of the disc’s pieces folds in clearly defined thematic designs. That’s not to say that the pieces are staid or lockstep in structure. The collective talents of Morris and his ‘sidemen’ are reliable deterrents to that.
Bynum brings a brio and incisiveness that immediately takes command of the listener’s attention. His vast spectrum of slurs, whinnies and pursed-lip spatterings brings tonal and harmonic variability in spades. Most striking is the speed with which he can make the jump from relatively clean melodic articulation to atomized abstraction. It’s a facility and consistency that make even his scouring vacuum cleaner smears on “Land Mass” logic-bound and sublimely musical.
Allan Chase’s reed palette is another expansive weapon in Morris’ musical campaign. Burly baritone honking sets the opening “Skeleton” to a teeth-rattling frequency, eventually ceding to Bynum’s hornet swarm brass. Chase’s alto and soprano are deployed with equal alacrity, the former riding curls of cymbal spray on “Topics” while the latter jousts playfully with muted cornet on the closing “The Air Has Color”. Luther Gray operates with oceanic grace with Morris’ percussive alter ego fully dialed in to his colleague’s wavelength through decades of shared stage and studio gigging. The controlled avalanche conjured from his kit on “Landmass” could serve as textbook in terms of current energy music drumming while the supple mallet work of “Bearing” plies the other side of palliative balladry.
Morris leads from the corner with Mingusian confidence, fingering stout walking patterns around the horn play and not shying away from his own ration of solo space. Those moments, while less frequent than those of his colleagues in what would conventionally constitute the frontline, bring the import of disc’s title immediately to mind. Devoid of any cover or crutch, Morris’ strings sing with a knotty elasticity, echoing a rhythmic argot that is all his own.
~ Derek Taylor