Guitarist and composer Justin Morell
is releasing his newest album, Exit Music for Intelligent Life on Earth
, a collection of twenty-one short works for multiple guitars and drums. This is the follow-up to the much acclaimed All Without Words: Variations Inspired by Loren
(2021) by the John Daversa
Jazz Orchestra featuring Justin Morell, on which Morell was the composer and guitarist.
This unusual collection of mostly short pieces, the majority lasting little more than a minute or two, depicts a story of global climate change and a search to find a new home on another world. The pieces are grouped into six sections, beginning with the present day of one degree of warming, followed by the melting of the permafrost, warming of the oceans, ice breaking off into the water at the poles, formation of new deserts, and finally a fictional journey to a planet on which explorers establish a homestead.
Morell composed and recorded these works in his basement home studio, using twenty different guitars and various kinds of processing to create an orchestra of textures and colors. At times, as many as fifty different guitar parts can be heard playing at one time. Upon completion of the guitar recording, Morell invited Mark Ferber
to play drums to most of these tracks, and his contribution adds a layer of energy and brightness while never intruding on the intricacies of the composition.
Morell says of this project, “After completing my Concerto for Guitar and Jazz Orchestra (recorded with soloist Adam Rogers
and the Frost Concert Jazz Band, 2018), I wanted to focus on something more intimate with which I could control almost each and every element of the process. I wanted the music to be all about the guitar, and I wanted to play each part myself. As I worked, I discovered so many different guitar sounds and techniques that I had never really explored before, and that felt really new and interesting—and inspiring.”
The compositions started out as small, individual works, but as Morell continued composing he found himself creating a cycle of pieces in a genre much like the famous preludes of Debussy and Chopin. Yet, while preludes are by definition introductory in nature, “Something about these pieces felt like endings instead of beginnings. This is when I started to think of the works not just as endings of small individual things, but collectively as a giant ending to how we experience life in our environment.” Morell continues, “I started to hear the pieces as postludes—the music you listen to as you leave someplace.”
But the message is not all dark, nor is it all based on reality. The last group of six tracks comprise the section called “New Home”, which is about an optimistic journey from Earth to a distant uninhabited planet and creating a life there. The piece called “The Journey” is part of this group, and it is the most densely scored and harmonically rich of the set. At 4:44, it is also the longest on the album.
Morell’s composition has been lauded by jazz and classical music critics and listeners. Of the album All Without Words
, journalist Jim Hynes said, “This is one of the most beautifully eloquent pieces of music this writer has heard in recent memory, certainly in this year of 2021 so far.” Dan McClenaghan
of All About Jazz said “There have been great orchestral jazz albums in the past: Charlie Parker
’s early 1950s shot across the bow, of course... saxophonist Art Pepper
‘s Winter Moon, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond
‘s Desmond Blue
, and the Claus Ogerman
/ Michael Brecker
. All Without Words: variations inspired by Loren
rises to that level of great artistry and beauty.” And All About Jazz's Jerome Wilson
said, “For beauty and heart, this music is above and beyond anything else around today. It is an outstanding recording.”