Chris Morrissey is a musician’s musician. As a bassist, he’s logged hundreds of thousands of miles touring five continents and countless hours performing and recording with a long list of world-class songwriters and players. As a bandleader, he is as convincing a singer and frontman in his rock outfit Taurus as he is a composer and upright bassist in his jazz quartet. Few musicians wear as many hats, and even fewer wear them as comfortably.
Before coming to Brooklyn in 2009, Chris lead a hard-hitting band in his home state of Minnesota that included local luminaries Dave King on drums (The Bad Plus, Happy Apple, Buffalo Collision) and Mike Lewis on saxophones (Bon Iver, Happy Apple, Andrew Bird). With their deep history and unmistakeable individuality, King and Lewis, along with pianists Peter Schimke and Bryan Nichols, brought Morrissey’s distinctive writing to life on his 2009 debut, The Morning World. The record quickly caught the ear of François Zalacain and found a home on his renowned New York label, Sunnyside Records.
Called “the shape of things to come when it comes to bassists and bandleaders” by Jazz Times, and placed third on a list of five records to play for “…people who think they don’t like jazz” in National Public Radio’s A Blog Supreme, The Morning World earned high praise from the jazz press community. The music also got the attention of some of New York’s brightest players, and Morrissey wasted no time enlisting some heavyweight collaborators in his new city. With drummer Mark Guiliana, pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Ben Wendel, and guitarist Nir Felder, he began packing such notable venues as the Jazz Gallery and Rockwood Music Hall while earning concert recommendations from Nate Chinen of the New York Times, Time Out New York, New York Magazine, and as a “Voice Choice” in The Village Voice.
“The next step for this music is to take it overseas.” says Morrissey, who moved one step closer to that goal at the 2012 New York Winter Jazz Festival with an impactful set at The Bitter End. The oversold crowd spilled out onto Bleeker Street into a line that wrapped around the corner. “A great thing about festivals like Winter Jazz is the opportunity to play for international promoters and booking agents who wouldn’t otherwise get to see new bands like mine in person. Seeing your name on a poster next to Nels Cline and John Medeski is pretty cool too.”
Morrissey escapes a usual pitfall of crossover artists, never sounding like a jazzer writing rock or a rocker playing jazz. It’s a trait absorbed from his years following the genre-less Minnesotan innovators Happy Apple (two of them future bandmates). He writes and plays in that spirit, with his own identity. That identity deepened in 2009 with the formation of Taurus.
“My friend Neal Perbix asked me to fill some holes in the narrative of a song he was writing about me. I’d written poems before and made half-hearted attempts at lyrics, but I always gave up. Something about him presenting me with with a melody and a familiar subject were the perfect training wheels. After finishing that first song, it’s all I wanted to do. It felt like an epiphany, and a world of expression that I’ve always admired as a listener and band member was now available to me.”
In the months that followed, Morrissey wrote well over a record’s worth of material and invited three close friends to start his new group. In April 2010, joined by Jacob Hanson, Rich Hinman and Mark Stepro for a week of rehearsals in New York, the band was born: a Taurus. That same summer, they reconvened in Cannon Falls, Minnesota to work with Brent Sigmeth, Morrissey’s go-to engineer from The Morning World and made Cannon Falls Forever.
“It’s a quintessential first record,” says Morrissey. “There were no deadlines or expectations. From the first song written in my bedroom to the last mix in Cannon Falls, we were doing it for the love of the music and for each other and that’s what it sounds like to me.”
New as the band was, new to working together they were not. All highly in-demand sidemen, the four had played together and individually with Ben Kweller, Mason Jennings, Mark Guliana’s “Beat Music”, Andrew Bird, Rosanne Cash, Hayes Carl, Sarah Watkins, Haley Bonar, Dosh, Tony Scherr, Dumpster Hunter, Enemies and many more. With Taurus they had something of their own.
Cannon Falls Forever garnered the approval of critics from New York to Minnesota and points between, even getting a long-distance nod from Chris Wood at watchoutfor.com.au in Melbourne, Australia who said the album was “…brimming with an unhinged sense of enthusiasm which is equally matched by a well manicured pop intelligence.”
“I wouldn’t trade a second of my time in Mason’s, Ben’s or anyone’s band. My years as their bandmate and friend have shaped me immeasurably, but my bands can’t be side projects. They’re who I am. I’ll always play with others and cherish my role as a bassist, but my dreams are about Taurus and The Quartet. Too much music isn’t such a bad problem to have though, is it?