This past weekend, Chris Morrissey celebrated the release of his new jazz album, The Morning World, with a pair of outstanding CD-release shows at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul. Those who missed the shows with Morrissey's jazz quartet (which includes the always-superb Dave King on drums, Mike Lewis on saxophone, and Bryan Nichols on piano) will have one more chance to see them tonight before Morrissey heads back to New York--and as someone who was in the front row of the Artists' Quarter during Saturday night's mesmerizing performance, I highly recommend making the effort to get down to the Clown Lounge this evening.
With the cumulative experience of the musicians in the quartet, it's no surprise that they played Morrissey's compositions with the precision and execution of seasoned professionals. But what blew me away at Saturday night's show was how each of the four players' talents were showcased without ever drawing too much attention toward one musician--for example, despite the fact that it was his CD release show and his name on the marquee, Morrissey only took one bass solo all night, and it was during a jazz standard that featured solos by all four musicians.
Because of this, Morrissey's compositions themselves became the star of the show. Before each song, Morrissey would cue the band by singing a snippet of next melody, Lewis would step up to the microphone and play the hook, and the group would fall into a rhythm in much the same way that hikers with similar strides fall into step with one another without trying.
Though the spotlight was never shown onto one musician more than another, it was easy to get distracted by each members' unique and refined technical abilities. Mike Lewis paced forward and backward as his fingers swirled around blues scales and riffs, shifting easily between slow and sensual ballads and dizzying barnburners; Bryan Nichols timed his piano fills perfectly, always complementing the other players but never drawing attention to himself; Morrissey stood stoically at the back, face pinched into a grimace, holding it all together with his fluid bass lines. And then there was Dave King, whose technical abilities border on the absurd, who pulled the group in and out of time while grinning fiendishly and laughing like a mad man. During one highlight, a song Morrissey said was dedicated to a rest stop in Midland, Texas, the group played so feverishly and recklessly that it made me physically uncomfortable, and over a minute progressed where the beat was intentionally lost and the players scurried around each other before falling back into the groove. It was one of those exhilirating moments that so many experiemental jazz combos strive for but few successfully achieve.
As with every Monday night in the Clown Lounge, tonight's gig is sure to draw out all the jazzheads, adventure seekers, and fans of the unknown--and if last weekend's performances were any indication, there will be a little something for everyone at this intimate show.
The Chris Morrissey Quartet plays tonight in the Clown Lounge (in the basement of the Turf Club). 21+. $5. 10 p.m.