“To me jazz is a liquid thing – never fixed or concrete”. Joe Morris has a very clear vision of the places he wants the music to go to, and High Definition – which sees his bass legerdemain and compositional skill augmented by three extraordinarily responsive companions – unquestionably shows that attempting something different whilst maintaining the roots of prior historic movements visible is a remunerative decision when one understands the meaning of “respect”.
The project was conceived as a spiritual union of men working – to quote the nominal leader again – “as a playful folk-like setting”. At first, its temperament is occasionally grumpy and not exactly easy to welcome, a hypothetical finger given to those who think that a jazz record is necessarily meant for relaxing. This is an utterly positive quality, if you ask here: there’s nothing worse in this area than a set of sketchy pretexts without any degree of difficulty, sheer means to “tiresome blasting” ends. Then again, it is fantastic when an improvisation sounds as a natural flow even if the listener is still able to see the artists’ fangs. There are several times in which this happens here, the reward right behind the corner, dressed as compositions that appear seriously dissonant yet completely natural and – especially – informed by instrumental virtuosity gifted with unusual humanity.
Taylor Ho Bynum’s work on cornet, trumpet and flugelhorn is impressively ebullient, non-prosaic confidence and a logic of immoderately unrestricted melody characterizing the solos. The guy’s prominent vivacity is barely containable even when forced by a theme (Morris definitely does not help in that, angular melodic jumps and intervallic dispersions being the norm in almost all the tunes). Allan Chase, correctly described as a musician “who deserves more recognition than he gets” by Michael Rosenstein’s liners, is rational or daring depending on the circumstance – and an utter badass on the baritone saxophone. In “Topics”, among the album’s highs, dauntless aggressiveness and peace of mind seem to proceed simultaneously, the polychromatic sparkles coming out of his trade with Bynum alone worth of a tip of the hat.
It’s not all fire and liberation: in the subsequent “Bearing”, the foursome work on an “intuition-of-the-next-move” level, each protagonist sensitively vigilant, the music’s dynamics confined well below the blowout threshold. At that point, both Morris’ and drummer Luther Gray’s reciprocal sixth sense and probing restraint can be appreciated, their participation to the overall texture of the piece defined by a complete disintegration of the typical roles of a quartet. Morris’ command of so many idioms is amazing, the tone gorgeous to say the least. Finding renowned musicians whose voice on two dissimilar instruments (bass and guitar, in this case) is at such a stage of distinctiveness is quite rare today. Hearing those vigorously plucked figurations saturating the aural field while orienting the sonic tissue towards the territory of uncluttered freedom is a constant source of satisfaction for this listener.
After these undoubtedly ineffective words – heaven knows how difficult talking about jazz without sounding ridiculous is – the only thought that lingers on is “replay”. This is a somewhat thorny, ever-valuable, entirely gratifying release that confirms Joe Morris’ incredibly fertile period as a player and composer. This man’s quest for renewing that “liquid thing” and, at the same moment, not forgetting where we come from is a significant event in nowadays’ non-commercial music. Time to give it the proper importance, once and for all.