Joe Morris/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver, Altitude

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 09.24.12 in Reviews

Connoisseurs of bold, long-form jazz improvisation are gifted this first-ever trio performance by three titans of the form. Guitarist Joe Morris is first among equals, his mostly brittle-toned, single-note effusions adding to the relentless intensity of the rhythm section with the vigorous poise and beauty of a hummingbird. Not bothering with squawks, squeaks and other undue resonance, his rapid-fire notes nearly cluster as they dart and dip with both great exertion but also an unhurried efficiency that carries its own special grace. Gerald Cleaver seethes at low-level heat from the drum kit, maintaining a steady fusillade of snare and tom-tom beats that sometimes roll like ocean waves, and sometimes erupt like sparks, all without ever really abating.

Three masters communally engaged in filling up a broad empty canvas on the fly

Cleaver’s solo connects the 26:22 “Exophere” with the 25:22 “Thermosphere,” which together comprise the nearly 52-minutes of non-stop innovation that was the opening set of the trio’s performance at The Stone in New York on June 17, 2011. According to the liner notes, the room was hot and the musicians’ clothing was soaked in sweat at set’s end. You can feel every drop of it in the ensemble interplay, which is reliably torrid and devoid of histrionics.

The final two tracks, “Troposphere” and “Mesosphere,” are excerpted from the second set. Their power is hindered by their relative brevity, yet they’re intriguing for William Parker’s switch from contra bass to zintir, which is a Moroccan bass lute. In such a protean trio, Parker’s voice turned out to be the one compelled to slide in edgewise – he still rumbles magnificently, does some context-shifting arco work during the marathon first set, and presents an especially nice contrast with the zintir. If you are coming here primarily for Parker, however, his double-disc solo opus from 2011 is a better bet. On the other hand, if you’re coming here because it promises three masters communally engaged in filling up a big, broad empty canvas on the fly, step right up.