Lawrence "Butch" Morris

Current Trends in Racism in Modern America

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Though Morris had enjoyed a career as a fine cornetist and composer for, among others, David Murray, his first album as a leader found him investigating his own driving passion, the "conduction." He had honed this ability with Murray's big band, organizing riffs and responses for the group on the fly, blurring the distinction between composing and improvising. Here, he assembled a tentet evenly divided between musicians from a jazz background and those from the then nascent downtown New York City scene, including future "superstars" John Zorn, Tom Cora, and Christian Marclay for a live session at The Kitchen. The music owes little to jazz, however, and traverses relatively rough, abstract territory as Morris selects various groups within the ensemble, soloists, duos, etc., and channels them into loose slabs of sound. Here, they're in a dense swirl, harshly bleating while there, a serene, delicate quiet takes hold, Zeena Parkins' harp plucking forlornly. Zorn is in full-on screech and game call mode through much of the evening while Marclay provides some of the more routinely entertaining moments, at one point dropping in some heavily funky rap from his turntable. In the ensuing years, the success of many of Morris' conduction projects would depend critically on the caliber and sensitivity to his conception of the players involved. Here, while the musicians are certainly fine, there is perhaps a lack of familiarity to his approach since the overall effect doesn't quite attain the cohesiveness and sense of scale that one would like to hear. The recording suffers a bit simply by the listener being unable to observe Morris in action, making it unclear as to exactly what his contributions were at any given point. Fragments work fairly well on their own (such as the Eastern-sounding beginning to "Part Two") and the whole idea, at the time, was an exciting and innovative one. This makes Current Trends... worth hearing as a somewhat flawed first attempt at a grand and fascinating idea.

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