DUST TO DUST, second and third parts
Dust to Dust
New World RecordsÂ : 1991
Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris, conductor; Zeena Parkins, harp; Myra Melford, piano; Wayne Horvitz, keyboards and electronics; Jean-Paul Bourelly, guitar; Jason Hwang, violin; Marty Ehrlich, clarinet; John Purcell, oboe; J.A. Deane, trombone and electronics; Vickey Bodner, English horn; Janet Grice, bassoon; Brian Carrott, vibraphone; Andrew Cyrille, drums.
The first time D:O saw one of Butch Morris’s Conduction ensembles, they wereÂ playing in large tent near Battery Park in NYC. Morris’s crew was twenty strong, the stage thronged with instruments that make up your typical 21st Century big band: guitars, turntables, strings, brass, electronics, and lots of percussion. They were opening for another large ensemble, Henry Threadgill’s amazing and seemingly lost-to-history Society Situation Dance Band — but that’s another story.
Morris’s group unleashed a formidable space funk/avant jazz/classical hybrid that evening. Think Agharta meets Stravinsky. The music was impressive but it was equally stirring to watch Morris guide the group through his Conduction method. He conjured and shaped these futuristic sounds from thin air, shifting gears and introducing new grooves with a simple nod of the head or flick of the baton.
Of course these gestures were all part of a complex series of musical cues and signals that Morris has devised and refined over the years. EvenÂ knowing that, the experience imparted the high-wire thrill of pure improvisation but on a larger scale — this time the entire band was the instrumentalist and Morris was the musician, performing with genuine go-for-broke brio.
Many of the Morris’s albums featuring his conduction techniques are drawn from live concerts. In a number of cases, you had to be there. And in some cases, even if you were there, the documents don’t caputure the utter magic generated in the moment. A friend was at one of those recorded shows. He thought it was magnificent. Years later, he got the album only to wonder what happened? TheÂ freefall sense of dynamics, rapid tonal shifts, instrumental tension, and instant composition didn’t translate to wax.
Dust to Dust is different. It’s one of the few albums Morris has been able to record in the studio with the album format in mind. The selections are fairly concise,Â carefully molded with repeated listening in mind. And thanks in part to a grant from the Reader’s Digest Fund, Morris assembled an all-star crew to realize his vision. Take a moment to scan the musician list above and be amazed.
Morris’s music contains multitudes and these tunes aren’t the Stravinskified space funk that we heard so many years ago. (For something more like that, see Morris’sÂ collaboration with Burnt Sugar on The Rites). But these songs do contain shards of that night, along with echoes of ambient,Â traditional Asian, electronic, 19th Century classical, and plenty of jazz.
The title of the eponymous track may suggest something funeral, but ain’t nobody going quietly in this churning piece. “Othello A,” one of several Italian referencesÂ on the album, drifts purposefully towards its destination with an aimless beauty. There are plenty of associations to be summoned by this richly evocative music, but for once we won’t crowd your imagination with ours.