December 10, 2018

  • Exploring New Sounds in Free Jazz


    Interfaces: Jazz Meets Electronics
    Jeff Morris, live sampling. Karl Berger, vibraphone & piano.
    Joe Hertenstein, drum set/percussion.
    Ravello Records 7998
    Total Time:  51:31
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Composer Jeff Morris is known for his unusual, and often surprising, explorations and integrations of sounds, electronics, and experiences.  His music skirts traditional concert hall work and performance art,  Here he is joined by two consummate jazz performers, Karl Berger and Joe Hertenstein across ten works that challenge our expectations of the genre.  Morris uses technology more as an instrument unto itself by using his own skills in improvisation to respond to the performances of the music as it progresses.  In this respect, the music is a natural outgrowth of third stream jazz.  Morris counts Ornette Coleman and experimental composer Conlon Nancarrow among influences and philosophical compatriots.

    Across ten tracks, Morris intends to challenge his listener’s expectations about what sounds and rhythmic ideas float out of jazz gestures.  This free jazz experimental style will strike the listener from the very first track, “Upzy”.  The electronic and computer sounds serve more as a percussive backdrop, sometimes adding manipulations of the piano or drum set ideas and reworking them against the extended jazz harmonies.  The piano pops out with a variety of jazz-infused lines and chordal progressions that struggle sometimes to come out of the percussive background.  In effect, it is like all three performers are improvising at the same time.  As disorienting as this may seem at first, there is enough tonal material here for the listener to latch onto.  It helps to then listen closely to see how this might be altered sonically by the sampling and rhythmically (“Into”—which adds a vibraphone) through percussion and sampling.  Sometimes these will be grouped in loops (“A Solo is the Nth Melody”) and other times the sampled material is reimagined and played back through sampling adjustments reacting to the live performance (“Into”).  “Unwind” and “Into” are connected in that the latter is retrograde of the former.  Bebop-like gestures can also be heard.

    Interfaces is indeed an appropriate title for this experimental free-jazz release.  Sometimes it is as if we have been dropped into the middle of the improvisational section of a larger work.  The electronics and sampling here are akin to what might here in popular urban forms.  What helps draw the listener into the music though are the piano lines and threads.  These provide a basis upon which one can better appreciate all the unusual sounds and effects that Morris creates.  As he further breaks down the chords and rhythmic jazz tropes, they are reintegrated into new sounds and ideas upon which each of the performers react and interact.  That process makes the album a rather intriguing exploration as Morris deconstructs and reconstructs our expectations for what sound and music can be.