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Jun 092012
 

When the musical whirlwind came to an end, the crowd responded with a standing ovation, an enthusiastic testament to the power of this sweat-soaked night of edgy jazz guitar.

By Steve Mossberg.

Read the Art Fuse’s review of Mary Halvorson’s CD Bending Bridges.

Guitarist Mary Halvorson -- she dug in hard with aggressive rock-inflected solos that were often more daring than those on record.

By the time Joe Morris took the stage at the Lily Pad this muggy Friday night, the room was packed with eager listeners. Morris, one of the world’s most respected free-improvising guitarists led his trio, with Patrick Kuehn on bass and Geni Skendo on flute, through 40 minutes of unscripted music. While conducting his partners with bobs and weaves of the head, he unleashed endless torrents of fluidly picked notes and plucked accompaniments alternately evoking visions of maracas and African thumb pianos.

Morris’s younger band mates, though both very skilled, didn’t often reach the same levels of abstraction as the leader. At times they developed convincing melodic extrapolations on his lines, but they often responded with more conventional patterns of play. At its best, this contrast was compelling nonetheless, with Skendo coaxing a multitude of textures from his collection of flutes and Kuehn augmenting and varying his minimalist bass grooves in response. High points included some wide-open duet segments and an intense passage in which Skendo’s expertly played shakuhachi swirled beautifully together with Kuehn’s buzzing bowing. In the end, Morris gave a unceremonious cut-off, and, following a couple of final flute notes, the band arrived at their final destination. Amid raucous applause, they stood up and walked off, smiling and laughing at the shared experience.

Mary Halvorson’s quintet wasted no time in starting after Morris’s trio ended. The room was unbearably hot, the audience was now overflowing into the street, and several cheeky fans had snuck up to the front of the room and were sitting kindergarten-style on the floor at the band’s feet. Jonathan Finlayson stood out front holding his trumpet with Jon Irabagon next to him on alto sax and Halvorson seated off to the side, her feet perpetually resting on two guitar pedals. Behind them was John Hebert on bass and the substitute drummer, Thomas Fujiwara, sitting commandingly high behind his kit.

Guitarist Joe Morris — one of the world’s most respected free-improvising guitarists.

The hour-long concert was energetic and visceral. In addition to performing two highly sophisticated, new pieces, Halvorson and company enhanced four selections from the recently released Bending Bridges with new tempos, altered dynamics, and large expanses of free-form, collective improvisation. Fujiwara, standing in for Ches Smith, didn’t play with the latter’s sense of dangerously inventive brinkmanship, but he contributed a new range of tones and colors from his cymbal and mallet playing.

On “Love in Eight Colors,” Smith took a show-stopping solo centered on a constantly shifting, Led Zeppelin-style groove, filled with satirical hi-hat smashing and rapid fire runs on the toms. Irabagon and Finlayson were given ample time to stretch out and explore with and without accompaniment and obliged with several rewarding improvisations. Halvorson dug in hard with aggressive, rock-inflected solos that were often more daring than those on record. Hebert showed especially fleet fingers throughout the night, but they never outpaced his musical ear—every note counted.

When the musical whirlwind came to an end, the crowd responded with a standing ovation, an enthusiastic testament to the power of this sweat-soaked night of edgy jazz guitar.

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