Reviews - JOE MORRIS Trio.. Antennae (AUM004)
JAZZTIMES July/August 1998
" 'The guitar is really an unruly piece of machinery; but, the great thing about it is that it's so crude that if you can apply some sort of science to it or art to it, you can get it to do something that's unique," remarks Joe Morris. "The people who have managed to do something relevant with it have all manipulated it into something new. That's what I'm figuring out right now, because I don't want to be an encyclopedia of guitar languages.' The growing consensus suggests the latter comment is an understatement. By all evidence, Joe Morris has already figured out a lot: he has hot-wired American primitivism and post-modern structuralism to create not just an innovative guitar style, but a far-reaching new music aesthetic. Morris' music taps a lot of roots simultaneously; some are as old as music itself, and some are too new to have a name." -Bill Shoemaker


November 16, 1997 "Musicians who extend the vocabulary of jazz as well as the technical possibilities of their instruments are rare, but guitarist Joe Morris surely meets both criteria. On "Antennae," Morris offers a volatile musical idiom so sophisticated and unconventional that it renders Schoenberg's 12-tone system simplistic by comparison. At the same time, Morris articulates fast running passages with a clarity, speed, and nuance that few guitarists could match. With bassist Nate McBride and drummer Jerome Deupree providing comparably restless rhythms and adroitly stated ideas, this band points toward new textural harmonic possibilities for the jazz trio. Obviously it's not easy listening, nor was it intended to be." - Howard Reich

November 11, 1997 "Morris has gone to the avant-garde well to test the brink of improvisational reason, but at the same time developed a quintessential jazz-guitar tone, dark and dulcet, its vibrato squarely modulated and inimical to sonic overkill. If Ornette Coleman were Jim Hall, he would be Joe Morris." -Gary Giddins

May 1998 "Nobody plays guitar like Joe Morris. An uncompromising champion of free-jazz improvisation, his every note is informed with the spirit of folk and blues, ensuring his music a soulfulness that survives even the most forbidding reaches of experimentation. Though his tonal cascades and drastically hyperkinetic rhythms are hardly reminiscent of Hendrix, a formative influence, his utter fearlessness recalls Jimi as strongly as a more obvious candidate like Ornette Coleman. While Antennae is largely built on simple jazz forms-theme-improvisation-theme-drummer Jerome Deupree tends to eschew swing for a tighter interplay with the guitar. "Stare Into A Lightbulb For Three Years" features a recurring riff at which Morris picks relentlessly, rigorously rewriting like a code he's trying to crack, while "Human Pyramid" is relaxed and meditative, and "Elevator" matches Morris's fretwork with intriguing contrapuntal lines from bassist Nate Mcbride. This isn't foot-tapping chillout music, but neither is it angry or bombastic. It's restless and agitated, cerebal and compelling, insistent and demanding. Morris and co. dare themselves to create spontaneously without a net, and they dare listeners as well to demand more of the music. It may not be the easiest job, but thank goodness someone's doing it". -David Reitzes

DEEP WATER-Issue the fifth
Joe Morris is as absolutely unique as any instrumentalist I've heard in years, seemingly beholden to no model whatsoever in his open-ended extrapolations of alien logic. His tone is clean and clear, no fuzz or overdrive, but it's what he plays that amazes-far-out single-note lines, intervals, unwinding from a multidimensional spool, stitching together moments into a vibrating polygon of no known origin. On the 7 mid-length cuts here the group rarely gives in to the urge to clobber, uncoiling in a fashion I'd have to describe as linear, though by conventional stands it's one real strange line (if anything, I hear early '60s Ornette trio as processed thru an 8-eyed mind). I think it's fairly obvious that these men aren't human, but rather some form of advanced beings who communicate via thought waves & electromagnetic vibrations; can't imagine any other way they could play so wildly splayed-out & still know what each other are up to. Most definitely has plenty to do w/ elevated consciousness, not least because of the extraordinary focus required to actually follow what these cats are whippin' around. Wish I could describe this better, but I'm not totally sure words exist. Exhaustingly transcedent. -Kevin Moist

DOWNBEAT Lead Review March 1998
Only a few years back, Bostonian guitarist Joe Morris was having trouble getting his music produced, and for a long while he solved the problem by putting out projects on his own Riti label. Suddenly, over the last two years he's swimming in releases, with CDs emanating from hatOLOGY, ECM, Leo, No More, Soul Note and even the indie rockers Homestead. The last of these companies recently folded, but their man in jazz, Steven Joerg, opened Aum Fidelity in it's wake, and Morris can add this imprint to his lengthening list.

One can easily understand the boom in Morris' stock-he's one of the few guitarists continuing to explore the uncompromising turf that others, especially James "Blood" Ulmer, seemed to abandon in the late '80s. He works without anything cutsie or haut-conceptual-no cover tunes or pastichery, no obvious hooks or nostalgia to snag the audience. The sound of Morris' Les Paul is bare, sinewy, unadorned with effects, and often his phrases are sharp as glass splinters. But the music's not characterless skronk; quite the contrary, it's hot-blooded free lyricism, an extension of the unbounded linearity and social interplay of Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Lyons.

The pieces on Antennae took their inspiration from Lowell Davidson, a sadly little known multi-instrumentalist with whom Morris worked fairly extensively before his death in 1990. Skeletal compositions provide grist for wide-ranging improvisations-"Human Pyramid" is an emotionally charged ballad, "Stare Into A Lightbulb For Three Years" (a reported experiment of Davidson's) has a great, terse, jumpy theme; "Elevator" rises to blistering runs and particularly nice lower-register guitar, while on the title track Morris turns his pick 90-degrees to alter the timbre until it almost sounds like he's bowing a spike fiddle.

Jerome Deupree played drums with Morris on some of his fine Riti efforts, and he sounds wonderful here: loose, rolling and tumbling, but right on target in the abrupt tutti parts. Bassist Nate Mcbride should catch some ears. The 26-year-old has already waxed with Morris a couple of times, but this is his best representation yet-he's at once aggressive and sensitive, adding productive energy to the most free-whorling sections, holding down ferocious time on "Stare Into A Lightbulb," and walking purposefully on the bluesy tune "Silent Treatment."

Antennae is a rich trio outing from Morris, who continues to stretch jazz guitar into strange, beautiful new shapes. -John Corbett

EXCLAIM! (Canada)
With Antennae, guitarist Joe Morris steps up production of a body of work that stands and walks with giants. This working trio of Morris, bassist Nate Mcbride and drummer Jerome Duepree wrangle and corner the melodies and master the language toward the listeners understanding. This is perhaps the best part of this disc-that further and deeper listening brings further understanding of how this music works-and it is hard, good work. The trio stretches and solos with the focus on the hard swing at the core of the compositions-witness "Stare into a Lightbulb for Three Years." In the same way that the music of some of Morris's peers and co-workers-Matt Shipp, William Parker-can challenge the listener with a staggering flow of ideas, there is an undeniable feeling of recognition that this music is a living force with a heart and a brain. -Spike Taylor

JAZZIZ November 1997
On Antennae (AUM Fidelity), a trio disc with Nate McBride ad drummer Jerry Deupree, the tune "Elevator" unfolds for 15 minutes through a series of melodic episodes as potent as the jump-cut sequences of an action film. Although he's incredibly swift, Morris' dance along the fretboard seem less like a flurry of notes than a natural expression of what he calls his "inner sense of melody." Such an organic approach might imply that Morris isn't really in charge of the music's direction. But he's got a secret: "The trick is to always have a line of melody in your head, always know where you're going and never just use fingers to get there. You have to play with your brain and with your voice. To give the music a shape and take it some place, it has to be connected. It has to have a line of continuity."

The structure on another lengthy track, "Lightbulb," repeats melodic patterns in tumbling cycles. At times, Morris seems to take on the character of a mischievous drunk: reeling on a spiral staircase, leaping toward the chandelier, still always landing on his toes. "Lightbulb" is built entirely on phrases, which are are reconfigured and spliced. Like much of Morris' trio music, it derives spirit from the subtle interactions among the players -all free to let loose as long as they stay within the detailed logic of the piece. -Sam Prestianni

To get totally into guitarist Joe Morris's music, you have to approach his aural barrage pretty much the same way he does-by leaping right in. The curious might consult "Synapse," the first cut on Antennae, the Morris Trio's dynamic new disc. The New England ax-hand's group hits the ground running on the tune, keying into a free-wheeling pulse that emerges stealthily despite the composition's jackrabbit tempo. This even happens on Morris's ballads, in which bassist Nate Mcbride and drummer Jerry Deupree offer the next big guitar god so much harmonic and rhythmic density that he's free to launch streams of carefully enunciated melody blips (check the gorgeous "Silent Treatment" and "Human Pyramid"). -K. Leander Williams