Lawrence "Butch" Morris

Conducts Berlin Skyscraper '95

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Recorded at the Total Music Meeting in 1995, this double CD represents Butch Morris' attempt to conduct "Berlin Skyscraper," a specially assembled group of musicians -- 17 in all -- in an eight movement performance all designed by Morris' idea of "conduction." Conduction is the free improvisation of a group of musicians who are all directed not by any notated, graphical or otherwise, score or idea, but from the chair of the conductor who conducts the improvisation. It's pissed off a lot of musicians, especially well known ones. But Morris has a plan and this recording bears out how well it works. Most of the players on this date come from the classical world. They have a strength in that they are used to following g the instructions from a conductor, but they have a weakness when it comes to being able to improvise freely or act accordingly without a score. The rest are jazz musicians who are used to both improvising and charts but not conductors. What Morris accomplishes is a work so vast in its tonal spaces and colors, the recording can barely contain it. Opening with two basic movements, he guides his orchestra toward a familiarity with one another and the concepts of expansion. He is not interested in their individual improvisational ideas -- though he in is their social conventions, histories, experience, etc -- because he's looking for what they don't bring to the bandstand. In the first two movements, Morris finds unifying timbres and modes of commonality, exercises them, and then, in "Dark Secret," undoes them all, tearing down one preconceived musical notion after the next in order to move 17 individuals who have musical centers toward one higher musical center to which they all contribute and become part of. The temptation to think of all this as theory that results in racket is overwhelming at times, but to actually hear the process being accomplished as string players touch upon microtonal territories they thought only horns were capable of reaching, and percussionists finding overtones in rim shots done by hand, is interesting. The players suggest musical ideas, Morris either takes them and develops them by working them into the piece or ignores them and insists upon a total commitment to the process at hand. The result is a shimmering, glistening whole full of open spaces, radical tonal spheres, and textural sonances that musical notation requiring mode or interval could never design. In Morris' egoless conduction, new tone poems and symphonies are being structurally erected as multilingual towers of expression and collective architecture where tonality is the bendable surface from which the foundation emerges. There are no records like Butch Morris' conduction sides, nor could there be, though he wishes there were. In conduction -- and perhaps only there -- is it possible to achieve the feat of a musical community dissolving its separate identities in order to communicate in freedom as an individual unit of creative expression.

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