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Joe Morris Quartet
Graffiti in Two Parts
By Ken Waxman
Paradoxically, the overriding fascination of this 1985 Cambridge, Mass. session is with its least-known player. Unlike Joe Morris, Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris and Malcolm Goldstein, who have well-charted careers in improvised music, this is only the second record featuring Lowell Davidson (1941-1990). More crucially, Davidson plays percussion and aluminum acoustic bass here, unlike his eponymous 1965 debut as a pianist on ESP-Disk with drummer Milford Graves and bassist Gary Peacock.
Someone who studied biochemistry at Harvard, after the trio date Davidson returned to Boston, where after taking too many chemicals himself, found his increasingly erratic behavior meant few gigs. He met Joe Morris in the early 1980s and played with him on-and-off from then on. Davidson, whose piano styling had quirky Herbic Nichols-early Cecil Taylor intonation, approaches other instruments in a more rudimentary and more abstract manner. His percussion implements here result in off-centre coloration rather than time-keeping, while the aluminum bass, intermingling tones with Morris’ distinctive clinks and flat picking from banjouke and guitar, almost lacks double bass properties and is instead mostly involved with upper-partial tremolos. Frequently it’s also difficult to distinguish the bass work from Morris’ abrasive plucks and pops plus Goldstein’s flying spiccato and other extended string techniques. Flexible playing arco and pizzicato, the violinist infuses the proceedings with staccato lyricism. Meanwhile Butch Morris uses his cornet to flick muted tones or plunger whines into the mix. Among the others’ dense and agitated timbres, his mewling grace notes stand out.
Overall, the textures on “Graffiti-Part I” and “Graffiti-Part II” are sympathetically aligned, but the presentation is nearly opaque. Combining the trumpeter’s ghostly puffs, the guitarist’s sharp twangs and the fiddler’s angled multiphonics with occasional metallic string thumps and irregular drum beats allows for few pauses. One does occur in the final variation of the second track when Davidson reveals an uncommon bass line that’s equal parts rubber-band stretching and agitated string rubs until it’s suddenly cut off by B. Morris’ low-toned brass burbling.
Satisfying enough as this CD is displaying Davidson improvising on his secondary instruments, the answer to how his piano prowess changed over time remains moot. Perhaps the appearance of Graffiti in Two Parts will tempt someone to release those tapes of Davidson’s piano playing that are rumored to exist in the Boston area.
Tracks: Graffiti - Part I; Graffiti - Part II; Tag
Personnel: Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris: cornet; Joe Morris: guitar, banjouke; Malcolm Goldstein: violin; Lowell Davidson: drums, aluminum acoustic bass
--For The New York City Jazz Record January 2013
January 6, 2013
Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris
Nu Bop Records CD 09
Positions and Descriptions
Clean Feed CF 230 CD
By Ken Waxman
For the past 20-odd years as “Butch” Morris has demonstrated conduction: structuring free improvisation using a specific series of hand gestures, many improvising ensembles have been created in his its wake. Whether groups use or not signals developed by Morris to rearrange and sculpt notated and non-notated music, conduction is part of their inventory. As these releases demonstrate however, it depends on individual musicians’ skills for a performance to be fully satisfying.
This is apparent on Verona, collecting two Morris-directed conductions from 1994 and 1995. While both involve 11-piece ensembles, the instrumentation in 1995 makes it more satisfying. The three parts of “Verona Skyscraper” vibrate with a lyrical exposition and juddering intensity that upstages the five parts of “The Cloth” from 1994. As two percussionists, a guitarist and two pianists stretch, smack and crunch a pulsating ostinato, distinctive solo interludes interrupt the cacophonous friction. Bill Horvitz’s guitar plinks are contrapuntally paired with one pianist’s key clipping or the aggression of the rhythm section is muted by Stefano Benini’s legato flute tone or contralto wisps from Marco Pasetto’s clarinet. Throughout, Zeena Parkins’ harp plinks are lyrical with a hard edge. As the massed instrumental textures quiver continuously, the stand out soloist is J.A. Deane on trombone and electronics. His braying plunger work cuts through harmonized woodwind extensions or the layered friction of piano strumming cadenzas. Eventually the full-force instrumental bubbles to a crescendo, then ebbs to signal the finale by shrinking to triangle pings and guitar plinks.
Although Deane also solos on “The Cloth”, the minimalist quivers predominating from dual cello string shimmies, low-frequency piano chording and gaunt oboe tones make the themes overly precious. When the downward pinches of Parkins’ harp stand out as disruptively staccato, the textural sameness of the other textures becomes apparent. Luckily by the time the carol-like “Omega” is played, sul ponticello strokes from the celli, and whacks from Le Quan Ninh’s percussion join barking trombone guffaws to angle at least this piece towards concluding excitement.
Flash forward 12 years and bassist/composer Simon H. Fell’s Positions and Descriptions owes as much to juxtaposition as conduction, although Steve Beresford s on hand to bring conduction clues to the 16-piece ensemble. The nine-movement suite is described as “a compilation … incorporating composed, pre-recorded and improvised elements”. With the pre-recorded sequences at a minimum, the tension engendered is between the composition’s notated and free-form sections. Early in the suite Tim Berne’s mercurial saxophone lines create free jazz interludes abetted by drummer Mark Sanders’ rim shots. Later, a chamber ensemble of clarinet and strings echo ornate textures as glockenspiel, vibes and bells jingle contrapuntally and a tubax burps. From a jazz standpoint, “Movt. III” is the most exhilarating track, with Sanders’ bass drum accents and Fell’s pumping strings leading the band though a vamp reminiscent of Count Basie’s 16 men swinging. In counterpoint clarinettist Alex Ward produces reed-biting shrieks and trumpeter Chris Batchelor brassy slurs. Before a cacophonous ending, pianist Philip Thomas and violinist Mifune Tsuji output a faux-schmaltzy tango. Preceding and following this, harp glissandi and baroque-styled trumpet maintain the composition’s formalistic aspects. Fell makes jokes as well. “Plusieurs Commentaires de PB pour DR [Description 5]” described as a “mini concerto for baritone saxophone”, only features the horn’s distinctive snorts when introducing the following “Movt. V”. Before that the piece involves flute whistles, piano key percussion and half-swallowed saxophone tongue slaps. The concluding “Movt. V” gives guitarist Joe Morris a dynamic showcase for kinetic string snaps. At the same time Fell has orchestrated sequences in which staccato string vibrations, woodwind smears and horror-movie quivers from the electronics arrive in sequence. Taken adagio, the finale involves every musician creating snarling dissonance.
Whether that last sequence actually involved conduction, giving top-flight soloists their head is evidentially as good a guarantee of quality music as theory.
Tracks: Positions: Movt. I [Positions 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4; Who’s the Fat Man? [Description 1]; Movt. II [Position 5]; FZ pour PB [Description 2]/Commentaire I de “FZ pour PB” [Description 3]; Movt. III [Positions 6-9]; Graphic Description 4; Movt. IV [Position 10]; Plusieurs Commentaires de PB pour DR [Description 5]; Movt. V [Positions 11-17]
Personnel: Positions: Chris Batchelor: trumpet; Jim Denley: piccolo, concert, alto and bass flutes; Andrew Sparling: Eb, Bb and bass clarinets; Alex Ward: Bb clarinet; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Damien Royannais: baritone saxophone, Eb tubax; Mifune Tsuji: violin; Rhodri Davies: harps; Philip Thomas: piano and celesta; Joe Morris: guitar; Simon H. Fell: bass and electronics; Philip Joseph: theremin; Mark Sanders: drums; Joby Burgess: percussion; Steve Beresford: electronics and conduction; Clark Rundell: conductor
Tracks: Verona: Conduction No. 43: The Cloth; Via Talciona; Dust to Dust (part 1); Omega; Long Goodbye / Conduction No. 46: Skyscraper Mutiny; Crossdresser; Testament
Personnel: Verona: Conduction No. 43: J.A. Deane trombone/electronics; Mario Arcari: oboe; Riccardo Fassi and Myra Melford: pianos; Brandon Ross: guitar; Bryan Carrot: vibraphone; Stephano Montaldo: viola; Martin Schutz and Martine Altenburger: cello; Zeena Parkins: harp; Le Quan Ninh: percussion/Conduction No. 46: J.A. Deane trombone/electronics; Stefano Benini : flute; Marco Pasetto: clarinet; Francesco Bearzatti: bass clarinet; Rizzardo Piazzi: alto saxophone; Riccardo Massari and Myra Melford: pianos; Bill Horvitz: guitar; Zeena Parkins: harp; Carlo “Bobo” Facchinetti: drums; Le Quan Ninh: percussion
--For New York City Jazz Record January 2012
January 5, 2012
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, “Emyoueseyesee.it” subtracts the non-Western instruments and adds five horn players atop electronics, strings and percussion.
Overall “Emyoueseyesee.it” 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.
In MusicWorks Issue #101
July 2, 2008
Butch Morris & Ensemble Laboratorio Novamusica
Galatina Records CD 0701
True to Butch Morris’ declaration that he wants to work with more than jazz-oriented improvisers, this notable two-CD set finds the New York-based conduction pioneer performing two new ideographic-oriented pieces with the Italian Ensemble Laboratorio Novamusica (ELN).
Considering that the eight-piece Venice-based ensemble was organized more than 15 years ago with the express purpose of researching, studying and performing New music, the fit with Morris is near perfect. Still, the second of these CDs, recorded at Berlin’s Total Music Meeting (TMM) is superior to the first disc taken from a Venice concert three days earlier. On both discs, the ELN – trumpeter Ilich Fenzi, trombonist Umberto de Nigris, Cecilia Vendrasco playing different flutes, violist Piergabriele Mancuso, bassist Andrea Carlon, drummer Peter Gallo, Carlo Carratelli on upright piano and harpsichord plus director Giovanni Mancuso on piano – operates at an enviably high level following Morris’ complex system of signs and gestures. However all concerned seem particularly energized at the TMM. Perhaps it’s because of the location, or maybe it’s because a choir of bass clarinetists – Armand Angster, Peter van Bergen, Wolfgang Fuchs and Hans Koch – joins the band for the final two numbers.
An extension of Berlin-based Fuchs’ all-reeds Holz Für Europa ensemble, the four clarinet group brings an original series of antiphonal and eccentric timbres to the performances, matching the unusual textures ELN has already developed. For instance on “Conduction 143.2 Part 4”, various reed tinctures that include strained glottal harmonies and wide vibrations, alternate contrapuntally with the rubato coloration of the string and flute lines.
With the reeds as abrasively staccato as the brass and strings are harmonically legato, the tongue slaps and responsive split-tones of the clarinets’ quadruple counterpoint frequently override the forward-moving octet passages. Yet as Gallo’s drum flams and cymbal clapping re-orient the tonal centre, the result is a contrapuntal crescendo of dense, connective overtones that include strummed strings and reed expiration. “Part 5” is more of the same, with asymmetrical pizzicato plucks from the strings plus honking and spitting reed ejaculations adding to the timbre layering from Mancuso’s viola and Carratelli’s harpsichord. Eventually, the ensemble’s understated circular runs finally dissolve into silence.
On its own with Morris in Berlin, the ELN displays split-second responses to conduction cues with an improvisational virtuosity that takes in all manner of instrumental techniques. Spiccato strings snap and slide; brass is muted and chromatic; the flute shrills; the harpsichord leaps octaves; and asymmetrical drum beats thunder. There’s even a brief interlude when pianist Mancuso, bassist Carlon and drummer Gallo swing like a mainstream jazz trio, complete with keyboard fills and a walking bass line.
Then there’s “Berlin Squeaking” the 12½-minute introductory miniature at the TMM which encompasses all the characteristics of the Morris-ELN collaboration. Snaking along with ancillary tones, counter tones and overtones, often staccatissimo and fortissimo, the theme combines slurping brass triplets; sul ponticello arco and pizzicato string lines; ruffs, rebounds and cymbal splashes from the drummer; unexpected slide whistle-like textures; and high-frequency piano patterning.
Inflate the duration of “Berlin Squeaking” by a multiple of four to reflect “Conduction 143.1”, the earliest collaboration from Venice. Of high quality, but not at the same level as the subsequent Berlin meeting, this CD-long conduction perhaps reflects a familiarization process for the ensemble and Morris,
Certainly the taut and contrapuntal responses to every one of the Morris’ articulated gestures are there, with the eight players bending notes to reflect the flow of the performance. The major variation includes lengthier and more numerous silent pauses as well as steadying piano motifs, double-bass thumping and blunt cymbal and snare pressure. The unexplained slide whistle peeps are apparent, as are resonating plunger blasts from de Nigris’ trombone and Fenzi’s trumpet. Throughout, sectional divides into instrumental duos, trios and so forth, are showcased, as are the subsequent reassembling into a complete band.
At points, flying staccato strings face braying trombone lines, as rapping rubato percussion accompanies the piano(s) uncoiling and undulating cadences. Meanwhile puffing flute timbres intersect with chromatic trumpet runs. Eventually, diminutive fantasias from the pianos and other instruments take precedence along with abrupt changes in instrumental direction plus distinct, particularized repeated note clusters.
Judging by past performances, Morris’ conductions are evidentially most satisfying when interpreted by an open-minded ensemble. This CD proves that the Venice-based ELN is just such a group. Plus, the addition of the reed section in Berlin results in a performance that attains exceptional resonance.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Disc 1: Conduction 143.1: 1. Part I1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 Disc 2: 1. Berlin Squeaking //Conduction 143.2: 2. Part 1 3. Part 2 4. Part 3 5. Part 4* 6. Part 5*
Personnel: Disc 1: Ilich Fenzi (trumpet); Umberto de Nigris “barone” (trombone); Cecilia Vendrasco (flutes); Piergabriele Mancuso (viola); Carlo Carratelli (upright piano); Giovanni Mancuso (piano); Andrea Carlon (bass); Peter Gallo (drums) and Butch Morris (conduction) Disc 2: same except Carratelli (harpsichord) plus Armand Angster, Peter van Bergen, Wolfgang Fuchs and Hans Koch (bass clarinets)*
February 13, 2008
Justin Time Just 212-2
A refinement rather than a squeal to violinist Billy Bangs highly praised Vietnam: The Aftermath, this CD extends his cathartic musings on his Southeast Asian war experiences by adding traditional sounds from two Vietnamese performers to those created by his freebop ensemble. Probably the foremost clue to his conception is that tunes entitled Reconciliation1 and Reconciliation 2 take up one-third of the disc.
On the former and elsewhere, the vocals of Co Boi Nguyen and the stroked dan tranh or plucked zither textures from Nhan Thanh Ngo provide distinctive patterns which the other musicians use to their advantage. While there is an Oriental cast to some of the themes in the Bang-crafted originals, this isnt some so-called world music match-up. Bang and company some members of whom like trumpeter Ted Daniel, drummer Michael Carvin, percussionist Ron Brown and conductor Butch Morris are also Nam veterans are jazzmen first.
Thus Carvins shimmering cymbal work and Daniels open-horned patterning come from that background; so does Curtis Lundys walking bass lines and John Hicks bluesy piano fills. Brown varies his percussion patterns on the traditional Trong Com, yet despite Nguyens vocalizing, Bangs distinctive plucking and plinking makes this cheery rice harvest song sound like it came from the fields of North Carolina, not those of North Vietnam.
Along with Bangs sharp tone with its double-stopping sharp glissandi and speedy spiccato, its Daniels sweet-and-sour open-horn that gives pieces such as the title tune their unforced power. The fiddler may say that during his tour of duty the rhythm of machine guns is what I heard, but with versatile sidefolk like these, he has transformed that nightmare into another CD suite that ranks alongside his earlier triumphs and includes a message of reconciliation and renewal.
-- Ken Waxman
September 7, 2005
Sweet Space/Untitled Gift
8th Harmonic Breakdown HB 8005/6
Fusion of two Billy Bang LPs originally issued on the Anima label plus four previously unreleased tracks, this two-CD set proves once again that a lot of excellent, advanced music was being made out of the media spotlight in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
While the focus then may have been on the discredited jazz-rock movement and emerging Young Lions, Free Jazz/Loft Movement veterans like Bang and crew were obstinately cutting out-of-the-ordinary sessions that, like Julius Hemphill and David Murrays records of the time, contained basic swing roots fused with atonal solos.
Backing came from musicians who had been and would be influential into the 21st century. SWEET SPACE features pianist Curtis Clark, now an expatriate in the Netherlands; early Art Ensemble associate drummer Steve McCall (1933-1989); plus then cornetist, and later conductionist Butch Morris, and his late (1937-2002) brother, bassist Wilber. Sax duties are divided between altoist Luther Thomas formerly of the Black Arts Group (BAG) in St. Louis, now another European expatriate, and Memphis-born tenorman Frank Lowe, who co-led the Jazz Doctors band with Bang before his death in 2003.
UNTITLED GIFT features only Bang, bassist Morris, drummer Dennis Charles (1933-1998), a Free Jazz pioneer who played with Cecil Taylor around the same time in the 1950s when the quartets final member, Don Cherry (1936-1995) on pocket trumpet, flute and bells, first became a member of Ornette Colemans legendary group.
Find of the session is SWEET SPACEs four additional tracks, which boost the first disc to nearly 76 minutes. More historical than musically interesting -- although they do add to Thomas and Lowes relatively sparse discography -- theyre alternate versions of the issued tracks with slightly different solos. You can note the relative position of the Free Jazzers compared to the major label-associated fusioneers and neo-cons, though. Sound on this session, recorded live in 1979 at NYUs student center, is somewhat wonky compared to what big time labels provided. Both versions of A Pebble is a Small Rock and Loweski for Frank feature off-mic saxophone solos that are almost obliterated by Charles booming drums in the foreground.
That shouldnt discourage listeners though, since the first piece, a sort of New Thing rondo has one of the catchiest heads youll hear outside of a late night session of Kansas City jazz, while the second highlights Butch Morris burgeoning skill as an arranger.
Following a dedicated preamble by Wilber Morris that feeds into a Swing piano line, the initially released version of A Pebble introduces the riffing theme with triple counterpoint from saxes, cornet and violin. As the piece unrolls in both versions, the lines keep circling back to the initial contrapuntal theme. With Clark comping behind him, Bangs first solo quickly evolves from floating, legato to syncopated ponticello lines. Thomas than provides his variations, all irregular altissimo timbres, and before Lowes impressive, but distantly recorded string of highly arpeggiated screeches and slurs, Clark appends dynamics with a light touch. Bisecting each solo is a return to tremolo variations on the theme. The main difference between this one and the previously unreleased version is a shot postlude consisting of a bass and drums shuffle and a lyrical piano interlude.
Harsh counterpoint from the front line above bass and drum riffs make an even closer connection between the unreleased version of Pebble and some of BAG founder Hemphills compositions that are atonal, yet bluesy. Lowes honks and whistling smears are more pronounced, if no louder here, as are abstract, locked-hand patterns from Clark. Ending with a final, foot-tapping reprise of the theme, atonal polyphony from all hands, leads to protracted audience applause.
Both versions of the title track mate wah-wah cornet lines with mosquito-droning jettes from the violin that presage ferocious, overblown sax solos with hocketing strings and background militaristic drumbeats. As Bang foreshortens his upper partials for timbres that sound like duck quacks, Lowe peeps out split tones. Morris rippling muted brass squeaks are more prominent on the previously released version of the tune as are Bangs double stops. There are times, in fact, when the orchestration resembles the violinists Outline No. 12, recorded in 1982 with a 12-piece ensemble including Lowe, Murray and the two Morrises. That compositions repetitive motif, which may have had its genesis in this piece, also heralded Anthony Braxtons later series of Ghost Trance compositions.
Twenty or so years ago however, Morris was more of a player than a conductor as he demonstrates on the two versions of Loweski for Frank. His high-pitched solos include descending triplets and whinnies, not to mention points where his open horn lead could take its place in a Dixieland ensemble. Bang double and triple stops with a syncopated undercurrent, sort of like a modern version of his early idol Stuff Smith, while the rhythm section vamps like updated Count Basie small group.
Partnered with a completely different pocket trumpet man on UNTITLED GIFT, who also plays yokube flute, congas and bells, Bang reveals a hitherto unacknowledged folkloric bent. Of course by 1982, Cherry had spent at least a decade attuning himself to different world musics, and this unaltered reissued CD reflects that. As nods to both Cherrys past and present the disc include two Coleman tunes, two by Bang and one by the brassman himself.
Instructively, Cherrys effort, The Kora Song sounds no more or less ethnic than anything else on the CD. Plus Bang and Morris combined eight strings are still 13 short of the harp-like kora -- although between the fiddlers gentle, yet distinctive jettes and the bassists rhythmic strength they easily approximate the African harps intricate style. At the same time, Cherrys flattish, wavering tremolo-tongued lead owes more to the trumpeters Los Angles upbringing than Lagos griots.
Despite Charles Virgin Island birth and fondness for traditional Caribbean melodies, his work throughout, especially in his introductory solo on Bangs nearly 12-minute Maat, is strictly improv. On that cut, his snares rolls and rebound plus bass drum pressure that uses positioned foot pedals is this side of hard bop, while Morris adds a walking bass line. Breaking out from initial front-line tremolo multiphonics -- with double and triple stopped staccato syncopation -- Cherry follows with triplet bounces and echoes, then plays a bebop riff thats picked up and mutated with plucked lower-pitched variations by the bassist. Rim shot action and a drum tattoo from Charles softens into unison trumpet and violin harmonics that reprise the theme.
Oddly, its Bangs transparently titled Echovamp 1678 that sounds most like so-called World Music. Marked by an almost danceable beat, plus miscellaneous bells and percussion echoes, the tune evolves from a prelude of unison screeching multiphonics to arching wiggling triplets from the fiddler. Soon exotic, bird-whistling counter harmonies arise from Cherry to meet Bangs solo thats more dulcet than usual. That doesnt last long since the slurred, metallic string clips he produces make it appear as if hes playing the erhu or two-stringed Chinese fiddle. When Bang completes his constriction of the scale, the tune slows down to moderato, with the quartet cooperation suggesting Cherrys tenure with Coleman -- with the violinist in the Coleman role.
Bangs violin playing would never be confused for Ornettes though, as he proves on those two Coleman tunes, using extra bow pressure to stretch the partials.
At the same time, these short, but respectful run-throughs arent the be-all and end-all of the session as they would be on many discs by Young Lions that appeared during that time.
In contrast to those, SWEET SPACE/UNTITLED GIFT proves once again that you may have to hunt to hear the best music. Since these sorts of sounds stands the test of time, sessions like these can also be appreciated years after they were made.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Sweet Space: 1. Previously Unreleased Version of A Pebble is a Small Rock 2. Previously Unreleased Version of Sweet Space 3. Previously Unreleased Version of Loweski for Frank (T.F.R.) 4. Previously Unreleased Version of Music For The Love of It 5. A Pebble is a Small Rock 6. Sweet Space 7. Loweski for Frank (T.F.R.) 8. Music For The Love of It
Track Listing: Untitled Gift: 1. Echovamp 1678 2. The Kora Song 3. Maat 4. Levitation for Santana 5. Focus on Sanity
Personnel: Sweet Space: Butch Morris (cornet); Luther Thomas (alto saxophone); Frank Lowe (tenor saxophone); Billy Bang (violin); Curtis Clark (piano); Wilber Morris (bass); Steve McCall (drums)
Personnel: Untitled Gift: Don Cherry (pocket trumpet, flute and bells); Billy Bang (violin, yokube flute, congas and bells); Wilber Morris (bass); Dennis Charles (drums)
March 7, 2005
Cuneiform Rune 167
Retrospectively Curlew got a raw deal.
When these tunes were briefly released -- only in Germany -- in the mid-1980s, the bands mixture of jazz improvisations, R&B licks and compact pop hooks was ignored in favor of music performed by groups more closely allied to any one of those idioms.
Listening to this vastly uneven collection, however, shows that the band made up of dedicated New York downtowners, was groping towards the sort of non-idiomatic fusion many younger, more sophisticated groups revel in today, whether they be from the so-called jazz or so-called pop/rock side of the equation.
Appending an additional six songs, recorded live and featuring a slightly different and even earlier Curlew line-up to NORTH AMERICAs original 13 tracks is even more instructive. Despite its downtown punk trappings, they show that the band members were also familiar with the blues and country music traditions. Over all, the 19 tracks show an evolving aggregation trying to conceive of the best way to mix the new concepts of jazzers like Henry Threadgill, Ornette Coleman and Butch Morris with a pop interface. Sometimes the musicians succeed; other times they fail -- spectacularly. But thats what make this CD interesting.
Tenor and alto saxophonist George Cartwright, who still leads the band today, and the late cellist Tom Cora (1953-1998), who later moved to Europe and collaborations with vocalist Catherine Jauniaux, are the only constants. The first 14 tunes feature a five man line-up with shifting drummers; guitarist Fred Frith, in between membership in art rockers Henry Cow and his present improvisational renown, plays bass, the same instrument he used in John Zorns Naked City; and guitarist Mark Howell, who later performed in Friths guitar quartet. The earlier quintet featured Cartwright, Cora, obscure bassist Otis Williams, who had an authoritative, light-fingered sound; drummer Anton Fier, after Pere Ubu and before his stint with The Golden Palominos; and guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, who recorded a duo session with skronk jazz legend Sonny Sharrock and has since been associated with producer Bill Laswell. Still with the majority of songs from Cartwright, theres not much controversy about who is the leader.
The presence of Coras cello gives you some idea of the bands ambitions at that time. Most downtown punk bands didnt have any truck with someone able to play Pablo Casals instrument. Also of note is the fact that jazz cornettist Morris adds some muted trills on top of the relentless rhythm of the brief Knee Songs 2 and experimental violinist Polly Bradfield screeches a few strings on the first versions of Minks Dream (sic), which also has an Ornette Coleman-like obbligato from Cartwrights alto, as well as Moonlake, a partially acoustic countrynfusion hoe-down.
First Bite and Oklahoma are also performed twice. Listening to different versions you hear why Curlew members, while good at what they did, were never real jazzers. For a start, none of the drummers ever really figured out jazz polyrhythms as opposed to beating out the constant, smashing pulse that rock demands. Secondly, at that time -- hes since become more erudite -- Cartwrights grating tone seemed to be midway between that of Boots Randolphs yakety sax and James Chances rudimentary shronk punk. Coleman, Threadgill and even Albert Ayler performed by ignoring their original training; you get the feeling Cartwright lacked any.
Although Coras (over) amplified cello gives some respite from the standard beat group set up of guitars and drums, too many of the tunes are too short to let much interesting instrumental interplay develop. And nearly all have a pat structure, ending almost exactly as you would expect them.
Still comparing the different versions of the tunes, the jam session-like excesses appear to have been worked out of them by the time they were professionally recorded. Solos for the sake of solos have almost disappeared. While the unfettered openness is still there, arrangements make the end result more focused.
There are a couple of major mishaps as well, when Frith brings out a violin on The Victim, the resulting country pastiche sounds more like an outtake from WORKINGMANS DEAD than whatever the band hoped to show. More seriously, Frith and Cartwright sing on J.B. Lenoirs Feelin Good, transforming a blues into a simplistic country ballad. Novelty is good fellas, but theres a reason bands hire vocalists. Apparently both have learned their lessons though. No one outside of their immediate families has heard either sing recently.
All and all NORTH AMERICA is a fascinating document of a band gradually figuring out how to forge an individual sound. One could expect the ends to be tied a bit tighter and the instrumentation to move more towards improvisation than rock. But thats the way Curlew was nearly 20 years ago. Appealing to rock fusion fans, the disc will definitely on many Curlew fans holiday wish lists.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Ray!= 2. Oklahoma 3. Knee Songs 2@= 4. Person to Person~ 5. Time and a Half 6. Minks Dream$ 7. Two-day Till Tomorrow^= 8. Light Sentence 9. First Bite 10. Moonlake$ 11. 12a. Agitar= b. The Victim&= 13. Feelin Good* 14. Oklahoma 15. Shoats 16. Moonlake 17. Minks Dream 18. The Ole Miss Exercise Song 19. First Bite
Personnel: Butch Morris (cornet)@; George Cartwright (alto and tenor saxophones, vocal); Fred Frith ([tracks 1-13] guitar!, bass, violin&); Polly Bradfield (violin)$; Mark Howell (guitar [tracks 1-13]); Nicky Skopelitis guitar [tracks 14-19]); Tom Cora (cello, cello resonated objects, accordion^); Otis Williams ([tracks 14-19]bass); Martin Bisis (fake bass drum)~; Rick Brown= , J. Pippin Barrett [tracks 2,4-6,8-11,13]; Anton Fier [tracks 14-19](drums)
November 18, 2002
BUTCH MORRIS/JUMP ARTS ORCHESTRA
Jumps Arts JA002
One of the most discussed, but ultimately unsuccessful, notions of the 1950s and 1960s was the attempted fusion of improvised and orchestral music into the so-called Third Stream. Besides the non-cooperation of most so-called classical types, the main reason this didnt work was that Third Streams most committed composers, like John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, appeared to be trying to put a jazz face on essentially pre-modern serious music. What ended up was a hybrid somewhat like a jet equipped with tricycle wheels.
It wasnt until the 1990s and the maturity of younger musicians who grew up learning both improvisation and composition that this fusion was attempted again. Not surprising, though, the majority of memorable works by Anthony Braxton, Simon H. Fell and the like have come from those whose primary alliances were with jazz and improvised music.
Initially a cornettist, and a long time conductor of tenor man David Murrays larger groups, Lawrence D. Butch Morris has provided the next breakthrough for orchestral improvisation. As he demonstrates on this CD, it involves putting together a group of like-minded improvisers -- 24 in this case -- to follow his codified vocabulary of 18 gestures or hand signals and collectively produce a musical work. Called conduction, or conducted improvisation, his system provides a focus for music making, yet it frees improvisers from the predetermined constrictions of a written score.
Morris has experimented with this technique over the past few years with many groups of North American, European and Asian players. This fairly brief -- less than 36½ minute -- excursion is also one of his most successful, since all the members of The Jump Arts Orchestra are young New Yorkers with few ideological axes to grind -- or play.
Made up of musicians who have experience in rock, classical, jazz and ethnic musics and encompassing members of such cutting-edge bands as The Gold Sparkle, The Transcendentalists and some of bassist William Parkers bigger projects, this structural flexibility of large-ensemble interaction is used to its utmost.
Most of the aural sparks that fly result from the friction produced when different musical themes come into play. A viola playing in a so-called classical style will be framed against the orchestras jazz-like horn section, for instance, or the repeated clawing tones of low-pitched reeds burrowing into the scores centre will suddenly be replaced by counter motifs from higher-pitched instruments.
Sometimes, a sound like David Brandts shimmering marimba aside will make up a continuo beneath the other instruments. Elsewhere a repeated triad from say, John Blums piano or produced from one of the clarinetists will define the shape of an ongoing section or underscore the entire work. Alternately, the cushiony blend of Bethany Rykers French horn and Tom Abbss tuba can prepare the atmosphere for a speedy pinprick of discordant notes from other horns. Other times, reed, brass, string and percussion lines will be built one atop another like the fillings in one of Dagwoods sandwiches, so the pungent spice of one can only be experienced by tasting all the others.
Occasionally space is made for pure-jazz solos, usually from the reeds or rhythm section. Andrew Baker drum tap dance and Abbss low-toned tuba makes impressions that way. Most notable is one trombonist -- very likely Steve Swell -- who is given his head at one point to transforms one section from a protracted group improv with echoes of early Stravinsky to the sort of showcase Charles sounds, perhaps because of musicians history or playing experience, recall some of Mingus extended large scale compositions or the repeated rhythm of Braxtons Ghost Trance Music. More pointedly, with the small platoon of players participating -- with some instruments played by more than one person -- naming the individual soloists somewhere on the disc would have been a good idea.
Other than that, Morris idea that musicians [who] communicate from vastly different perspectives results in a music of collective imagination seems to hold true here.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Section 1 2. Section 2 3. Section 3 4. Section 4
Personnel: Matt Lavelle, John Birdsong (trumpets); Reut Regev, Steve Swell (trombones); Bethany Ryker (French horn); Tom Abbs (tuba) Gamiel Lyons (flute); Charles Waters (clarinet); Assif Tshar, Oscar Noriega (bass clarinet); Stuart Bogie (contralto clarinet); Suzanne Chen (bassoon); Chris Jonas (soprano saxophone); Patrick Brennen (alto saxophone); Brian Settles (tenor saxophone); John Blum (piano); Jessica Pavonne, Dylan Willemsa (violas); Shia Shu Yu, Okkyung Lee (cellos); Todd Nicholson, Bernard Rosat (basses); David Brandt (marimba); Andrew Barker (drums); Butch Morris (conductor)
June 15, 2002