Highly defined low end

Joe Morris Bass Quartet
High Definition
Hat Hut hatOLOGY 670

Listeners may be more familiar with Joe Morris as an ace free jazz guitarist; but since circa 2000 he’s also regularly performed and recorded as an upright bassist. Joining him on his latest CD for Hat Hut, High Definition, are trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, saxophonist Allan Chase, and drummer Luther Gray.

The quartet is capable of fulsome free jazz full frontal assaults; their collective might on “Morning Group” creates a massed swath of atonal counterpoint that is truly something to behold. Conversely, they’re an egalitarian collective; each player gets a chance to shine in extended solos; the rhythm section on equal footing with the horn players. Gray’s powerful drumming on “Topics” is a standout for the percussionist. Morris’ walking lines create melodic pathways and a propulsive, dancing groove on “Skeleton.” Later in the tune, Bynum creates a self-contained, angular dialogue between the upper and lower registers of his trumpet; two solos for the price of one! Chase adds an extra bass voice by playing baritone here; his blurting interjections are a nice contrast to Morris’ fluid, walking lines.

High Definition references more traditional jazz elements as well. “Land Mass” contains a swinging, almost West Coast style, tune, which is presented as a conventional head. Still, the players chaff at staying entirely in the pocket; Chase and Bynum distresses the tune with skronky angularity and breathy sound effects during the solo sections. Eventually, these roles take on a juxtaposed relationship; the saxophonist breaks into a Parker-esque alto solo, while the trumpeter continues to tread avant terrain. In lesser hands, this might seem like a schizophrenic duality; but the duo here play these signatures against each other with wit and musicality. “All-in-One” features a memorable head, played tutti, which could have drifted off the bandstand during the 1950s, were it not subjected to present-day permutations during the solos.

The recording ends with “The Air has Color.” Free in form and further out in style, it features adept duo interplay from the horns that’s occasionally reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s early, post-tonal melodies. Morris grounds the proceedings with emphatic underpinning down low; while Gray alternates between more assertive percussive interjections and tastefully articulating a reminder of the pulse with textural flurries around the edges of the phrase.

 Thus, containing a panoply of avant-jazz playing styles without abandoning swing or bebop as touchstones, High Definition is a stirring example of contemporary players successfully integrating tradition and innovation.

 Joe Morris Bass Quartet

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