Itís easiest to describe Joe Morris in terms of what heís not, since he doesnít fit into any school of playing or even tradition except that of the ruggedly individualistic American jazz avant-garde. Heís an electric-guitar player who avoids distortion and effects in favor of a clean sound that nonetheless resonates with the electric bite of plectrum into string. The four long trio improvisations on this sanely proportioned CD (53 minutes) begin with straightforward, attractive blues-like melodies before taking off into free ensemble rhythms that allow Morris to accelerate and decelerate at will. He has his own vocabulary of patterns, jagged clusters that supplant the scales and arpeggios favored by most jazz soloists. And sometimes his velocity and articulation are dumfounding ó was ever a speed-demon soloist with a taste for the broad gestures of free rhythm more attentive to the shape and placement of each note?
Bassist Timo Shanko is right there with a classic sound both dexterous and shapely, accommodating the varying flow of Morrisís lines with rapid running figures or dark, downshifting strums à la Jimmy Garrison. Drummer Luther Gray never overpowers the music, and his cymbal work is especially adept, the rattle and ping of his top cymbal mimicking Morris note for note (and captured beautifully by engineer Frank Clifford). Approached cold, Morris could be called an "abstract" player, but once youíve adjusted your ear to his language, you can hear the conversational intimacies of his phrasing, the bright explosion of notes that drops in an instant to a low-register, guttural aside or a rhapsody of the African-kora-like droning that first inspired his singular voice.