Bagatellen review by Jason Bivins

cf-1301Joe Morris/Barre Phillips – Elm City Duets 2006 (CF130)
This one is an incredible meeting between Joe Morris — here exclusively on acoustic guitar — and one of his musical heroes, contrabassist Barre Phillips. It had been a while since I’d heard anything from either musician, and this record is quite simply a beaut. It’s the kind of thing that actually restores my faith in guitar playing, which is a pleasure to say. What strikes me about the record as a whole is not just the sumptuous woody sounds, nor even the incredibly kinetic interplay between these two. Good as those qualities are, I was continually bowled over by the lyricism that’s all over this record. From the first notes of “Ninth Square” you wouldn’t necessarily expect this. It rises from gentle but insistent bowing from Morris, coaxing some overtones from steel strings like he was sending smoke signals, with gorgeous drifts and work on the body from Phillips. But beginning with “Recite,” the strange logic and lyricism of the disc begins to emerge from the resounding, percolating lines the pair conjure. As Phillips plays rubbery glissandi on “Saved stones,” Morris plays brilliantine, almost fragile chords. And the lyricism of “June Song” delivers what the earlier pieces had only hinted at, with Phillips playing with unadorned emotion, his deep and robust lines set against Morris’ gentle preparations (or at least what sounds like preparations, a banjo flavor), like their own weird slice of Americana. I find this immensely appealing, but for those who want more grit, consult the chorus of wood and wire on the jittery “Normal Stuff,” or the groaning arco that shapes “Spirals.” Nothing about this is a by-the-numbers improv record. It’s filled with unpredictable moments and dynamic shifts, never losing sight of its own sense of form or harmony, but also opening up the music to contrast and chance aplenty.

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