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Beautiful Existence

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Album Review

From the first note, Joe Morris lets you know he means business, as he leads his quartet with singular intensity and astonishing clarity through the lightning-fast opener "Smear Spring," which features blistering, almost crazed improvisations from the guitarist and from the underrated Jim Hobbs on alto sax. Morris is a superb composer, too, as he dishes up generally simple though piercing melodies, some of which, such as the slower, yet bubbly Ornette Coleman-influenced "Some Good" are infused with an attractive bluesy tinge. "Knew Something" flounders a bit, with the guitar solo a bit too long, and the remarkable Hobbs' squawking alto grandstanding to his detriment, though Luther Gray partially redeems the piece with a thoughtful drums solo. With only one horn and rhythm, it would have been easy for Morris to take the easy road by having the sax state the melodies backed by rhythm, but Morris thinks outside the box, and very little of what he creates follows precedent. He prefers the guitar and alto to sing the melody in unison, the guitar acting as a second horn, as the two carefully state the tunes with precise articulation that is a function of supreme musicianship. There are a variety of tempos and moods represented. The leisurely "Real Reason" pairs the sax and guitar in collective improvisation, while the mid-tempo "King Cobra" sports a bluesy sax solo, an up-tempo jazz guitar solo, and a good bass contribution from Timo Shanko. The closer, "Beautiful Existence," parallels the opener with its speed, as guitar, alto, and bass burn with unmitigated alacrity. By the end, it is difficult not to appreciate the unusual talents of Joe Morris, a self-taught prodigy who, as a composer, guitar soloist and leader, once again stamps his imprint on an album that is usually fascinating and exciting, and often beautiful and swinging.

Beautiful Existence, Joe Morris Quartet
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