Joe Morris | Sensor | No Business Records

Joe Morris – bass

Tracklist: Side A 1. Sensor I  2. Sensor II 3. Sensor III Side B 1. Sensor IV 2. Sensor V 3. Sensor VI 4. Sensor VII

All compositions by Joe Morris * Recorded February 13, 2010 at Riti studios, Guilford, Connecticut USA * Engineered by Frank Clifford * Mastered by Arunas Zujus at MAMAstudios * Cover design by Oskaras Anosovas * Producer Danas Mikailionis * Co-producer – Valerij Anosov


was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 13, 1955. At the age of 12 he took lessons on the trumpet for one year. He started on guitar in 1969 at the age of 14. He played his first professional gig later that year. With the exception of a few lessons he is self-taught. The influence of Jimi Hendrix and other guitarists of that period led him to concentrate on learning to play the blues. Soon thereafter his sister gave him a copy of John Coltrane’s OM which inspired him to learn about Jazz and New Music. From age 15 to 17 he attended a student run alternative High School called The Unschool in downtown New Haven next to the campus of Yale University. Taking advantage of the open learning style of the school he spent most of his time day and night playing music with other students, listening to ethnic folk, blues, jazz, and classical music on record at the public library and attending the various concerts and recitals on the Yale campus. He worked to establish his own voice on guitar in a free jazz context from the age of 17. Drawing on the influence of Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor,Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman as well as the AACM, BAG, and the many European improvisers of the ’70s. Later he would draw influence from traditional West African string music, Messian, Ives, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Lyons, Steve McCall and Fred Hopkins. After high school he performed in rock bands, rehearsed in jazz bands and played totally improvised music with friends until 1975 when he moved to Boston… much more on Joe Harris can be found  by clicking here…

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4 thoughts on “Joe Morris | Sensor | No Business Records

  1. Though perhaps better known as a guitarist, improvising composer Joe Morris has been almost equally present as a contrabassist for the better part of a decade. His rhythmic drive is impeccable and usually spotted within small saxophone-driven groups like those featuring altoist Jim Hobbs or baritone saxophonist Allan Chase. He’s also played the instrument in the fairly open-ended piano trio of Steve Lantner. That being said, and despite the presence of the bass as a frontline instrument in improvised music for over 40 years, Morris has tended to approach it as an ensemble player. You’d notice if the bass was not present, because his time and tonal warmth are so significant, but he tends to subsume his role to the greater sonic landscape. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw him perform opposite bassist Ken Filiano in the Bill Dixon Tapestries orchestra at the late trumpeter-composer’s memorial service that the full range of his playing became clear to me. It’s not that he necessarily stepped out front, but his tone, phrasing, and intricate subtleties as separate from (but related to) his work on the guitar became a salient point.

    There probably isn’t any more naked place to give Morris’ bass a dedicated listen than on Sensor, a vinyl-only, unaccompanied recital released on the Lithuanian label No Business. As an instrument able to carry an entire program of music on its own, the bass has come a long way in jazz — the sound on live recordings of clinking glass and cash registers nearly drowning out the epic poems of Jimmy Garrison and Scott La Faro are a thing of the past. The first recorded program of bass soli was privately released in 1968 by itinerant American bassist Barre Phillips as Unaccompanied Barre (and still not on CD). In creative improvisation, artists as diverse as Dave Holland, Peter Kowald, Barry Guy and Yoshizawa Motoharu have recorded major documents. More recently Mike Bisio, Mark Dresser, and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten have followed suit. To make an improvised solo date requires a lot of confidence — one is without a net — as a statement saying that he considers neither instrument primary nor his work on either to be anything less than face-forward. Comparatively, saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee recorded Tenor (Hat Hut, 1976) eight years after he began playing the instrument, and it’s one of the cornerstones of solo saxophone music.

    Sensor consists of seven improvisations recorded in the spring of 2010. Some of the qualities of Morris’ guitar — dusky tone, flecked dexterity, unflagging drive and a curious use of repetition — are apparent on the first piece, played pizzicato. “Sensor I” uses gritty clusters and round, buzzing cells out of which telescope sinewy lines punctuated by the occasional accenting hiccup. Strings and resonance give the instruments some oblique comparison, and Morris inspires a loose and complementary binding through tone and phrasing, miniature glisses and callus scrapes adding filigree to a necessarily stripped-down concept. The second movement features arco bass and follows directly from the first, tense bull-fiddling in deft, throaty harmonics splaying out into pinpricks and circular rhythms. Morris has for some time used a horizontal scraping approach to the guitar as part of his language, goading serrated metal with his pick in a manner that approximates some aspects of West African lute music (“riti”). It’s interesting that many of the subtones he’s able to coax from the guitar can be found in almost equal measure on the bass, and that a horsehair bow is at times analogous to a plastic pick.

    The second side’s opener, “Sensor IV,” is reminiscent of Phillips in its bowed twists and turns, nesting into terse harmonic triple-stops and long, curving actions that both gently elide and saw with almost ungainly grotesqueries. That contrast is one thing (of many) that a great bass solo does well, allowing the instrument to sing with classical poise as well as accentuate its bullish low and earthy qualities. The fifth and sixth movements are both pizzicato and fairly short. “Sensor V” seamlessly blends condensed, warm-toned, middle-register movement with spikier phrasing, while “VI” expands into supple intensity. In purposeful ambiguity, one is reminded, perhaps, of the solo piano work of Andrew Hill as well as some of Morris’ own guitar soli. Ultimately, Sensor is an intimate portrait of Joe Morris the musician, allowing one to forget for a moment the specific state of the axe.

  2. Joe Morris is a veteran musician, playing and teaching in New England and New York. Primarily known a guitarist, he added bass to his arsenal about a decade ago, and has built a remarkably original and personal conception of the instrument. This solo album was recorded in 2010 and released as a limited edition vinyl record. “Sensor” is one long meta-track, broken into seven sections, featuring Morris on both plucked and bowed bass. “Sensor 1” opens the album with him plucking semi-fast, adding slaps and pops of the old-time swing bassists for accent, but playing with the free sensibility of the music of the present and future. “Sensor 2” develops a scruffy bowed soundscape with a dark and woody ominous sound, sawing and swirling in an exciting manner. “Sensor 3” shows the deft plucking of thick, strong and powerful hands. “Sensor 4” has emotionally forlorn bowing and scraping against the backdrop of cavernous open space. The music builds with short spurts of notes juxtaposed against each other. The notes come through thick and clear on “Sensor 5” with the music sounding dexterous and fast, never getting dull. “Sensor 6” has slow plucking that builds an atmospheric feeling, patient in its development. Finally, “Sensor 7” has exciting growling bowed bass developing fast and ominous, like the soundtrack for an imagined silent movie before breaking into bleak swirls of noise. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate an album of solo bass, but this record was captivating from start to finish. Morris keeps the energy high and the improvisations varied, so there are no ruts to fall into, on a very enjoyable album.

  3. Joe Morris has musicianship to spare. A guitarist on the frontiers of the new jazz, he is also an accomplished contrabassist. So accomplished in fact that he recently did an album of unaccompanied solo improvisations, Sensor (No Business NCLP 27). It’s a vinyl LP (a trend I do not find unwelcome incidentally), so the playing time comes in around 35 minutes, and that feels just right.

    I do not intend it as a slight when I say that Mr. Morris is probably the best acoustic bassist in the history of improvised music among those who take up the bass as a second instrument. These sorts of comparisons are not terribly illuminating but it gives you some idea what I think of his playing.

    To tackle an unaccompanied solo bass album is nervy I suppose, but Joe comes through with a performance that is not only not uninteresting, it is technically proficient and dynamic.

    Joe starts off the album with his bass sounding like a Burundian trough zither–earthy, accentuated, punctuated in a freely soulful way. He goes on to bow and pizz his way through extended, long-lengthed line construction in the Joe Morris manner. As with his guitar work, he is never at a loss when constructing a smoothly executed, harmonically extended chromatic phrase.

    This is improvised bass music of depth. It is not meant to be a tour de force of pyrotechnical prowess because that’s not what Joe is about. Matter-of-factly direct. Avant. This is my music, he seems to be saying. This is what I do.

    If you want to hear a player who has forged his playing style out of the force of his musical will, Joe Morris is your man. And Sensor is your album. It’s a most pleasant surprise for those like myself that didn’t quite expect it. And it will appeal to those who revel in the sonority of the contrabass in a free mode.

  4. I love solo bass albums, because of the sound. Nothing like vinyl on a good turntable with good amp and good speakers to listen to the depth and the warmth of a bass sound, even if, as on this record, the playing is adventurous.

    Joe Morris is primarily known as a guitar player, but he’s equally good on bass, with a somewhat different approach. He started playing double bass in the year 2000 only, and this album celebrates his 10th anniversary on the instrument.

    Other Joe Morris albums on which he plays bass as the leader are “Wildlife”, “High Definition”, or as co-leader with “The Flow” or “The Story Of Mankind”, and playing bass with other artists such as Jim Hobbs, Steve Lantner, Petr Cancura, Rob Brown and Whit Dickey. His solo guitar albums are “No Vertigo” and “Singularity”.

    His approach on bass is one of a nervous calm, carefully developing his lyricism, yet with an ongoing forward pulse. In contrast to his guitar-playing, his bass technique as demonstrated here is straight-forward, but excellent, with the expressive power increasing when he picks up his bow.

    Despite his relatively young familiarity with the instrument, he can of course build on many decades as an improviser, and that’s clear from every piece: even if they’re all callled “Sensor”, he sticks to one musical concept, that is then further expanded upon, shifting it, pushing it, changing it, approaching it from another angle, but never straying too far from the core idea that makes the piece. The pieces also alternate between bowed and plucked, but without switching in the middle of the track, which makes this also a very balanced and disciplined exercise: side A : pizzi, arco, pizzi – side B : arco, pizzi, pizzi, arco.

    “Sensor I” still starts with increasing agitated intensity, but – deliberate or not – the music becomes slower as the pieces unfold, with “Sensor VI” reaching a kind of vulnerable hesitation, only to reach the great slow intimate and beautiful “Sensor VII”.

    Even though I am a fan of solo bass albums, I can still highly recommend it, also to non-bass players.

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