When I consider Lawrence D. 'Butch' Morris' Conductions I always think about Ornette Coleman's 1960 recording Free Jazz and its double-gated LP cover reproducing a Jackson Pollock painting. Ornette seemed to be tossing sounds in the recording studio like (it was thought) Pollock splashed paints in his artist studio. What we come to learn about Jackson Pollock's work, after the hard drinking/fighting blue-collar myth is peeled back, is the genius of his controlled methodology for application of paint layers. Ornette's Free Jazz, although revolutionary, is more impressive in design than application.
Butch Morris, in conducting an ensemble, more closely resembles the painterly actions of Jackson Pollock. Pollock didn't splash; he danced above the canvas controlling he free-fall and the thickness of paint. Likewise, Morris through gesture applies his various ensembles through programs of ensemble Conductions.
Butch Morris' early work was in creative jazz and he came to national attention playing cornet in David Murray's bands and eventually conducting Murray's big bands. The records Big Band (1991) and South Of The Border (1992) on the Japanese DIW label are worth searching out. His life's work has been the one hundred plus Conductions begun in 1985 and expertly documented in the ten-CD box Testament: A Conduction Collection (New World). But if you are a beginner, this two-disc introduction is an excellent place to start. Conductions 57-58-59 were recorded in Italy in 1996 with the 21-piece Orchestra della Toscanna plus three that include piano, turntables, and sampling. Morris' regime forces classical musicians to play without notation, relying on cues and their musical instinct. Like Jackson Pollack, Morris directs the musicians, but relies on the medium for texture, viscosity, and color. Unlike a John Zorn Cobra performance the conductor doesn't change nor is there the ADD frenetic response to Morris. These are less 'games,' and more extended pieces of beauty. I particularly enjoy the classical nature of the instrumentation mixing with the click-click of sampled LPs, voice, singing, and the orchestra's playing returned to them through looped samples. What is missing here, as in all performance, is the visual. Certainly, seeing Morris in action explains much about where this tapestry came from. The next best thing, I guess is allowing your imagination to run with the digital captured on these discs.
The first jazz record I received
as a visiting gift from my
Japanese uncle at his
international division of
Toshiba EMI Tokyo was a
sample copy of Miles Davis'
Bitches Brew. A game
changer redirecting my
browsing habits and collection.