Dusted Reviews

Stone House - Likewise

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Stone House

Album: Likewise

Label: Riti

Review date: Nov. 24, 2003

Adopting new instruments in mid-career stride can be a gamble for any established musician. The stakes are arguably even higher in improvised music where individualism is a highly prized commodity. Crafting a single signature sound can be a trouble-fraught task in and of itself. But hunting for multiple voices can seem downright foolhardy. Even so, Joe Morris took the plunge, parsing his practice time on calling card guitar with a newly realized passion for bass. The predictable rabble of skeptics crawled out of woodwork at the advent of his recording debut on the instrument on Steve Lantner’s Saying So (also on Riti). Some lamented Morris’ decision to devote time away from his usual axe. Others openly called into question his ability to play his new one. Only a paltry few were left without an opinion.

It’s been a few years now and much of the hoopla has died down. Morris is still playing bass; he’s still playing guitar for that matter too. Stone House, his latest forum for the former, unites him with two regular colleagues: Rob Brown on alto and Luther Gray on drums for Likewise. The question still on some listeners’ lips is can he really play? The short answer of course is, yes. The longer reply is he’s still learning and honing. Hell, who isn’t? The dynamics here leave him little, if any room to hide. As the central harmonic fulcrum, he’s forced to sink or swim as the saying goes. To their credit Brown and Gray refuse to cut him any slack. The result is a roller-coaster ride of “totally improvised music,” packed with visceral thrills to spare.

The altoist sounds in focused form throughout, showing his protean ability to alter his tone and attack with ease. On “Meet Me in Another Reality” he doles out grainy legato rasps, riding the troughs and furrows of choppy fills built up by Morris and Gray, but leaving the cap largely on. The title track is a different story, with most fetters of restraint shucked like a pair of skivvies before a cannonball leap into a welcoming wintry pond. The piece starts gradually, gaining girth as Brown rifles through a rapid range of melodic progressions. Even at their most rambunctious, the trio never loses grasp of an underlying awareness of space and proximity. There’s an overarching order to everything they do. Morris has a tendency to revisit the same patterns. Oddly in much the same way as his colleague (and teacher?) William Parker. The effect is a decelerated departure from his melodic propensity on guitar. One that errs slightly into tedium due mostly to the leaden tonalities of the upright.

Brown’s Bansuri-sounding flute fuels “Emotion of Space” and contrasts with the grumbling drone of Morris’ arco bass. Gray applies heavy sticks to cymbals, creating rising washes of metallic surf. “Turning” rockets by, propelled by another bottom dwelling ostinato by Morris and fluttering trills from Brown. Gray strikes two minutes in with a cresting wave of cymbal crashes. Brown’s sound on “Lifelike’ is lighter and more fluid with traces of a Konitz-like chill. Morris plucks a furiously percolating line and Gray once again pounces all over his cymbals.

The opening minutes of “Ground Truth” offer a rare and revealing chance to here the altoist sans accompaniment, his dry phrases tinged with a coppery tang. Morris soon joins him with loose counterpoint followed shortly by entrance of Gray’s brushed drums. Their opening reverie proves brief as Brown’s horn heats up through a scattershot of overblown notes. By the time the 13-plus minute “Open Oblique” hits, the trio’s shtick has worn a bit thin. Though they still thread righteous excitement through their final sally. The straight dope is that Morris has more than earned his stripes on his new instrument. Nonbelievers need only start here.

By Derek Taylor

Read More

View all articles by Derek Taylor

Find out more about Riti

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.