No Favorites: For Lawrence “Butch” Morris
New World NW80782-2

By Ken Waxman

Dedicated to Lawrence “Butch” Morris (1947-2013), who structured improvisation without losing its freedom, the Rova quartet swells to orchestra size to adapt the concept. Adding f acoustic string players, an electric rhythm section and, on one selection, a conductor to Rova’s four saxophones is like adding bright colors to a room decorated in shades of white. Yet so attuned to the concept are the others’ playing that the now euphonious sounds remain hard-edged not ornamented.

Interlacing sequences from other compositions that are sutured and separated by hand signals and graphic scores, the 11-piece ensemble makes the formations sound harmonically and rhythmically whole, with space for interjections ranging from buzzing string spicccato and guitar flanges to sharp reed keening and drum resonation often wrapped in group polyphony.

Like shorter sprints before a marathon, the most spectacular instance is the more-than 27½-minute “Contours of the Glass Head”. Opening with Rite of Spring-like juddering counterpoint with electric instruments’ droning continuum, the expo"sition features theme-shredding via tongue slaps, altissimo cries and sibilate razzing even as it’s stabilized by string spiccato and a drum ostinato. The ensuing narrative makes room for double bass low plucks and upper register violin strokes plus a disorderly rock-like sequence of guitar flanges, backbeat drumming and screeching saxophone trills that are half-R&B and half-Free Jazz. Later, intermittent saxophone bites allow an underlying ruggedness to peek through the gauze. The CD is a fine instance of Orkestrova’s art and a fitting salute to a departed innovator.

-For The Whole Note May 2017