Guitarist Joe Morris has created another instance for me to be stymied. Along with Rob Brown on alto sax & flute, Karen Borca on bassoon, and Andrea Parkins on accordion & sampler, Morris has compiled a group of musical pieces that are defying the limits of jazz and classical music.
The instrumentation itself places a question in the listener's mind about the nature of this music. Every instrument is extremely subtle in its manifestation, but utterly distinguished in character.
At the beginning of the CD, the guitar line is so tightly woven into the mainstream of sound that I really have to work to identify it; and in other pieces, it makes an appearance that is undeniably guitar, as in the outstanding, too brief, solo, "Motion the Air".
The bassoon is the star of this CD. This predominantly orchestra-bound instrument bathes the background with constant arpeggios. This makes the textures fascinating. When the bassoon takes the lead, however, in "Small Cycles", for instance, it is often only because the sound of it seems to be in front and so distinctive that it cannot be ignored. The sax comes out of nowhere in this piece; Brown stretches its range to the pitch of some sort of whistle. The flute does make an appearance in "First Appearance". The clarity of the guitar, bassoon and accordion lines in this cut is crystalline. The sampler, which sounds to me like a keyboard, provides other out-of-jazz-character sounds that enliven the improvisation. It becomes a bass line, it becomes a drum set, it sounds Oriental at times, and it becomes a rhythmic foundation for the rest of the instruments.
In the title cut, "Many Rings", the sax lays the groundwork for the bassoon. And after a breathe or two of air, the guitar & bassoon have a lengthy duo where the guitar repeats one phrase unrelentingly underneath and alongside the bassoon which maps out phrases that are variations on one line. This is a wonderful section. Then the sax introduces the lead-in to the conclusion of the piece where the guitar is played brilliantly against the scalar pecking of the sax and the dotting of the accordion.
The basic sound of this CD is challenging to absorb. It is as if many threads were moving in and out of each other to solidify the musical surface and simultaneously keeping that surface resilient. The instruments bob around as if in water. Now one can be clearly heard; now, that one disappears, to be replaced and overlaid by another instrument's voice, & then it returns later. These pieces are all played in perfect balance; in perfect coincidence. The instrumentation is outstanding.
The difference, it seems to me, between classical/contemporary and jazz music is the method in which the music is put together. This CD is an example of the thorough uselessness of the efforts to forge a great divide between the two modes. Instruments are leaping from one mode to the other and back again. The way pieces sound, being improvised in the jazz mode, I have heard snippets of, in the composed classical mode. Improvisational techniques, however, release the music from a steadfast, theorized, academic nature, and put it into a free expression, closer to the spirit of the musicians, closer to the universal soul. An analogy can be drawn in the visual arts : an abstraction is a form of expression that matches the brain waves of the artist, while a realistic depiction forces the brain and hand to operate within boundaries, following rules. I believe in free expression (both in art & music), which, when revealed, establishes its own vernacular within its own boundless boundaries.
(I look forward to hearing Morris and his group at the Fourth Annual Fire in the Valley Festival at the Unitarian Meetinghouse in Amherst, Ma. on Oct. 16.)