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Valarie Morris: Reeding Between The Lines

Joel Roberts By

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This is certainly one of the more interesting CDs to find its way into my mailbox in a while. Valarie Morris is a San Francisco Bay Area composer/multi-instrumentalist who writes in an wide assortment of styles for a wide variety of ensembles. There are pieces here for solo piano; piano and voice; accordion and marimba; five saxophones; and, yes, five accordions.

As you might have guessed, this is not, strictly speaking, a jazz recording. It's more of a musical stew drawing on such disparate ingredients as contemporary classical, European folk music, children's music, Kurt Weill, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Charles Mingus. And the cooking metaphor is an apt one, since one of Morris' favorite topics is food; breakfast in particular. Two of her brief, thematic sketches here ("Scrambled Eggs" and "Sunny Side Up") are about, well, eggs. Other more serious compositions are inspired by such topics as a walk in Paris, a visit to Amsterdam, a wedding and anniversary, and El Nino.

Morris gets big points for ambition and originality. Despite the unusual instrumentation and sometimes uneasy mixing of styles, this is very listenable, accessible music. There are some truly poignant moments here, as well as some rather disastrous ones. Perhaps it's my general distaste for musical theater, but I found myself skipping quickly past the handful of rather silly vocal numbers. More successful is her work for saxophone ensembles, including a superb arrangement of the Mingus classic, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." She also uses the accordion to fine effect on a number of tunes, showcasing the much-maligned instrument's surprsing emotional range.

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| Record Label: Skyblue Productions | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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