Syrup the Natural Way

Bassist Thomas Morgan relies on precision in solo turn.

By: ANDREY HENKIN | Shortly after The Stone opened in April 2005, it established itself not only as a new space for creative music in a city that desperately needed it, but also as one of the most hellish spots at which to see music during the summer. With no air conditioning in its first months and a policy of no liquids that would put the Transportation Security Administration to shame, audience members wilted to the soundtrack of the avant-garde.

Climate control has since been installed but was impractical for bassist Thomas Morgan's solo set August 6. Morgan, who is just turning 27 years old, has been garnering attention of late in the groups of Steve Coleman and Paul Motian with a slow gooey style quite different from most hyperactive bass players.

It was fascinating, then, to see how he would effect a solo set; the history of the solo bass genre – and yes, it has one – is usually replete with extended technique and sonic manipulation. Morgan doesn't traffic in either. His technique is neither flashy nor flamboyant and he constructs lines with excruciating precision.

Since he was playing unamplified, the un-cooled room quickly filled with thick air, making Morgan's 50-minute humid improvisation seem at least twice as long.

But the circumstances actually helped. With no attempts at self-indulgent virtuosity, each note Morgan played was crucial. This was less haphazard free improvisation and more motific development in classical theme-and-variation style. The music was almost skeletal in nature, fleshed out by the creaks and crackles of the instrument and the ambient noise of a summer night in Alphabet City just outside.

After this kind of lengthy exposition, one where silence played a not insignificant role, there was very little Morgan could add. So he picked up a rickety Spanish guitar and sang a lovely ballad while fingerpicking. His technique was imperfect and his voice wobbly, but his vulnerability was sincere and appealing. It takes a particular kind of reflective nature to play music solo; a sweat-drenched audience was treated to two sides of Morgan's disposition.

There are two ways to make maple syrup. Many produce it quickly with high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, rendering it artificially thick. Thomas Morgan probably likes his the natural way — slowly-dripping sap collected over time, imbued with subtle flavoring