Reviews - JOE MORRIS Quartet...A Cloud Of Black Birds (AUM009)
"Listening to the Joe Morris Quartet is astonishing -- because his departure from syntactic thinking is challenging and yet so, well, pretty. The music seems alien because it so clearly belongs in the natural world from which Western man has taken great pains to separate himself. Yet Morris communicates. If anything, he shows how we retain intuitive links to the natural world." - Jeff Bagato

"A guitarist who computes the full matrix of influences from jazz to rock, but mostly jazz, uncovers labyrinths of riffs in the higher frets that have a mesmerizing ingenuity reminiscent of Ornette at full bore, enigmatic and compulsively listenable."
- Gary Giddins

PULSE! July 1999
Boston guitarist Morris sounds like no one else; his stuttering, clipped manner of articulating notes is decepively expressive as he unravels long threads of melody, twists them into knots, and then untangles them again, unbroken. He's found a kindred soul in electric violinist Mat Maneri, who favors dark instrumental colors and shadowy nuances of phrasing. On a piece like 'Threshold' they blend together in a heavy curtain of sound while the rhythm section (bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Jerome Duepree) flutters freely behind them; elsewhere their scurrying lines interweave in fluid counterpoint. The music's emphasis on linear development may derive from bebop and Lennie Tristano, but is cast in gothic gestures and schizophrenic moods-hear Maneri's sharp, slicing comments and feisty muttering behind the guitar on "Mesmeric" and the way the duo ventures boldly into uncharted territory on "Renascent." This is a band of intense commitment.
4 Stars -Art Lange (plus Top 10 Jazz Records of 1999 in PULSE!)

Grade: A The verdict: One of the guitar's great improvisers shows off a killer quartet.

If Pat Metheny is a household name, and Bill Frisell a beloved cult figure, then Boston guitarist Joe Morris is the genius inventor down the street you never hear about until one day --- kapow! --- when he figures out how to split the atom. On his latest album Morris gets mighty close, although his distinctly personal approach to the instrument rejects high-voltage pyrotechics for a peculiarly metaphysical kind of fury.

These seven instrumentals show off not only Morris' intricate patterns of cleanly articulated notes --- an advance on the lessons of 1960s avant-gardists such as Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor --- but a vigorously intuitive quartet whose collective verve radiates an instantaneous joy. That's rarely more apparent than when violinist Mat Maneri steps forward on the eight-minute title track, engaging Morris in the kind of conversation musicians can have only when they share an original language.
-Steve Dollar

"I came late into the game with Joe Morris, but now I am a believer. With the added violin of Mat Maneri on this recording, Morris' detailed guitar playing is the perfect complement and foil. The intricate melody lines that start off "Threshold" are a perfect demonstration of how the two string players work together. A duet by Morris and Maneri called "Renascent" underlines the point. There are moments of serpentine complexity that quickly coalesce into stunning beauty. Joe Morris' rhythm section of Chris Lightcap and Jerome Deupree support and propel the spring integrally, their presence is crucial and gives the Quartet the maneuverability it needs." - Bruce Adams

EXCLAIM! (Canada)
"Morris and Maneri share systems of thought that manifest themselves as improvisations of the very highest quality. A Cloud Of Black Birds is another Joe Morris masterwork -- discover him, uncover him, and your ears will thank you so very much." - Spike Taylor

"You're as likely to find beauty as agitation in (Morris') melody-to-melody compositions, and his very physical sense of the guitar can intimate Thelonious Monk's surprising intervals and purposeful smears." - Ben Ratliff

THE WIRE January 1999
"Entirely free from histrionics and self-indulgence, A Cloud Of Black Birds succeeds through sustained collective improvisation. Its radiance is that of dynamism, not flashiness, creating an integrated musical bio-system, rather than a facile showcase for self-reflective virtuosity." - Julian Cowley

"Their finest moment comes on 'Renascent,' a duo in which they abandon decorum along with the rhythm section in favor of a free-fall spiral that ends in a frankly terrifying flutter of kora-derived strums around a door-hinge fiddle cry. A whole album of these two going for the high dive would be great, but in the meantime this one flies." - Bill Meyer

MOD Magazine
"Unbelievable. The constancy of your heart beat, and diaphragm vacuuming air into your blood, are now in question. Can something be super-human? A Cloud Of Black Birds stirs questions in us. The rumble travels from horizon to overhead. Trusting, though afraid, you stare skyward. The Quartet has you. You have The Quartet. Listen. Believe."
- Keith York

OTTAWA CITIZEN (Canada) December 19, 1999 + CODA
'True emotion shines through' Boston based guitarist Joe Morris strives for emotional honesty in everything he plays, citing blues pioneer Blind Lemon Jefferson as a reference. An articulate, straightforward musician who has developed a distinctive sound, Morris is the product of a troubled childhood that culminated in his residency at a state school for emotionally disturbed youth. A Cloud of Black Birds is an attempt to reconcile the music he makes with the swarms of starlings that distracted him during those darker days.

Morris's playing often has the urgency of birds in flight, with his rapidly picked melody lines darting in unexpected directions, notes tumbling over one another. Joining him here is fellow Bostonian Mat Maneri, whose quicksilver violin is currrently one of the most expressive voices in improvised music.

The interplay between Morris and Maneri is marked by the difference in their tones. Morris prefers a dry , warm tone-the unaltered sound of his amplified Gibson Les Paul-while Maneri's sound is acerbic and sometimes grating. Over the churning rhythm section of drummer Jerome Deupree and bassis Chris Lightcap, Morris and Maneri spin skeins of notes that dip and soar. At points, the music resembles an Indian raga in its complexity and organization; at others, it has the pure, deep emotion of an Ornette Coleman solo.
- James Hale

::: Guitar Colossus :::
Boston's Joe Morris may be the most distinctive guitarist playing jazz and A Cloud of Black Birds is one of his best releases. Since the mid-1980s he's developed a highly personal, clear-toned language, melodic as it is abstract, built around lengthy, labyrinthine single-note runs which he masterfully adapts to the demands of each project. His current band -- violinist Mat Maneri, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Jerome Deupree - probe off-kilter freebop; these lyrical tunes swing, but the solo flights are consistently knotty and freewheeling, pushing the boundaries of raw expressionism without surrendering the music's rhythmic drive or its sophisticated melodicism. The album's density requires close attention, but the pay-off is sumptuous.
- Peter Margasak

A Cloud of Black Birds is utterly divine, a combination of intense communication, gorgeous symmetry, and deepminded exploration. With wisdom and confidence at his back, Morris sets forth on this record with violinist Matt Maneri, bassist Christ Lightcap and drummer Jerome Deupree in search of an intricate link, an inexpressible understanding, a thread to bind the seams of their individual knowledge, improvisational mastery and strong voices, but moreso to express the potency of self-actualization through recognizing one's place not only within a group, but within the complex and ever-evolving sphere of life. What balance one may impact or upset by their within the delicate framework of human interaction by their (in)actions is open for interpretation, but it is clear from listening to Morris and to his attunement to the various musicians who accompany him, Morris believes his place is to inspire dialogue, to think deeply about his craft and to concentrate with great effort on fulfilling his commitment to himself and to the music which he has so admirably dedicated his time. Taking that as a basis from which to delve into the music of A Cloud of Black Birds, one is drawn immediately to not only the sonorous voices of four players weaving in and out amongst and above and beneath each other, but of an overwhelming desire to create something that when looked upon from a distance, it becomes apparent the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. In this nonlinear realm, the Quartet create a harmony from Morris' varied textures and clean-picked notes and Maneri's droning, peeling and oftentimes rollicking violin playing. Of particular interest is Morris' usage of his fingers across the strings, not plucking or picking them but creating these hovering, tense waggles of harmonics and potboiling sensations that brilliantly build with Maneri's rich tones into a sustained wail or a quiet roar. On most of the seven pieces, however, Morris works the frets to mind-numbing success, either tapping quiet intervals and melodies behind Maneri or racing out in front, his mind and fingers on a mission. Deupree's drum solo that opens "Radiant Flux" is a quick and lively spat that sets the rest of the quartet on a roll they effortlessly sustain throughout the entire 9:52. Lightcap's various solos are of bristling forearm and supple oak. The structured aspects of the pieces emerge and expand exquisitely, with Morris and Maneri amending their opening melody lines with direction and an ambitious desire to explore every crevice of that melody. Therefore, a structure exists from which the listener can reference the ever-deepening channels of thought the players are pursuing, keeping even the most nubile of attendants from feeling too overwhelmed. Sonically, with no wind instruments, the record is not loud, per se, which should make this an appealing choice for those interested in listening to Morris or free jazz for the first time. I urge you to take a chance on this record. You won't help but be amazed, both at the beauty of the pieces and at the intensity at which they're played. Who knows, you may even learn a thing or two about yourself and if you like you like I think you do, a little introspection might be a lot of fun. -STEVE BRYDGES