Touching Extremes – Joe Morris Quartet – Balance

By Massimo Ricci

Sometimes a record’s content is foreseeable by merely looking at the titles, which in this case emphatically convey the fundamental principles of Joe Morris’ originative probing throughout the reunion of his acclaimed Quartet. The event materialized rather naturally after thirteen years from the dissolution of the band’s last embodiment, preceding issues between the guitarist and Mat Maneri having been solved in the meantime. The latter’s microtonal masterliness represents a special feature of this gorgeous music, whose strength is straightaway discernible as the gravelly tenseness with which the whole starts – caused by the juxtaposition of abrasive strings in “Thought” – flows into a quasi-harmolodic coalition impregnated by persistence and impartiality in the subsequent “Effort”.

Various forms of beauty germinate attractively in “Trust”, sort of an improvised ballad where the pureness of Morris’ lines gets exquisitely corroborated by Lightcap and Cleaver via unobtrusive pulses underlying an unresolved linearity. Episodes such as “Purpose” and the final “Meaning” – also notable for Cleaver’s well-mannered solos – clearly show how the nominal leader’s fretboard verbiage has influenced younger members of the same club (Mary Halvorson comes to mind) while transmitting a sense of collective repudiation of egotism. One can follow each player’s course in the respective unfolding of their inventive immediacy, a trait that ultimately emphasizes the interplay’s general consistency. Another tranquil poem to recall is the glorious “Substance”, Maneri at his romantically intrepid best in what’s possibly the CD’s finest moment, expressing at once clever moderateness and a progressive interpretation of what we call “sentience”.

Inspired by the work of sculptors from the 20th century, Balance is artistically unassailable and expressively ductile. It is the kind of album we can confidently return to when in dire need of re-establishing the value of instrumental prowess. If you’re willing to learn about the human and technical connections among musicians of repute still willing to research and substantiate significance, this is critical education.


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