Lawrence R “Butch” Morris

Rai Trade RTPJ 0009

Developed by American Lawrence R “Butch” Morris more than two decades ago, the concept of guided improvisation, or conduction, has become almost universally adopted and even fashionable – at least in improvisational circles. However this impressive two-CD set demonstrates that this vocabulary of ideographic signs and gestures is most impressively utilized by the person who conceived of it.

Working in that zone between notation and improvisation, Morris’ subtle direction of harmony, melody, rhythm, articulation, phrasing and form creates a sonic area that immediately defines itself as conduction. More profoundly, by taking into account the pitch, duration, intensity and timbre of individuals’ instruments, each performance is unique.

“Sheng Skyscraper” develops a strategy to deal with the interaction between non-Westernized instruments plus strings, percussion and electronics. Conversely, “” subtracts the non-Western instruments and adds five horn players atop electronics, strings and percussion.

Overall “” features Euro classical-style harmonies from cello, violin and oboe more prominently. Never does this chamber music suggestion supersede the other tones however. As soon as comfortable recital-like interludes are established, crashing discord from percussionists and modified electric guitars disrupt the mood, with the result further redefined with triggered oscillations and twittering sideband flanges. Along the way, the performance is open enough to expose intense trilling from alto saxophonist Gianni Gebbia and tremolo braying from trumpeter Ramon Moro.

Soon however, constantly repetitive cadences from individual acoustic or electric instruments comment on or extend these distinct forms until the entire orchestra produces sequences of pumping dissonance with spherical note clusters that surround and expand the sound field. By the finale, antipodal and polyrhythmic lines splinter so that lyrical vibrations from the carefully balanced string sets are no more prominent than struck percussion or jazz-like riffing.

Vocalized timbres from the erhu, dizi and guzheng create additional challenges on the first CD. Yet when sul tasto and pitch-sliding cries from the orchestral and electrified strings are taken into account, the end result is a particular admixture of court and chamber music. Shrill string cries, blunt percussion rebounds and even sampled pulses manage to expose the human elements that unite them.

Both discs are proof that the main achievement of conduction lies in how the immediacy of any performance profoundly affects and modifies the theory.

—Ken Waxman

In MusicWorks Issue #101