|Looking not a little like a modern-day Walt Whitman, German artist Ar. Penck is also a man of many interests, not the least of them creative music. If nothing else, he has excellent taste in sidemen. Wikipedia photo|
woodcut by Ar. Penck
Butch Morris conducting, using
his "from the heart" gesture.
Butch was the first jazz player I saw when I moved to New York City in the early '80s, and by then I knew him pretty well. His cornet playing was absolutely magnificent, unlike anyone else's then or since. And he was just starting his large-scale "conductions," whereby he would improvise a composition using prearranged combinations of instruments and sound patterns cued by a series of gestures. He used his musicians the way Ellington did, but he did it in live performance, shaping the piece even as he heard it evolve. Tres cool!
|An original concept – a new music |
I worked with a neighborhood furniture shop to create a simple wooden box that when picked up would play the melody. One side held the mechanism and the other provided access to the winding key and left space for Butch's "dancing notes" logo. I priced it out at a very reasonable buck-and-a-half per box, and presented a prototype version to Butch at a conduction performance at Cooper Union. He seemed delighted.
|Tiny Butch-in-a-box, a device with more|
meaning than I had initially realized
I have no idea if that was how Butch really felt, but the music box production plan was never mentioned again, and not long afterwards I left New York City for the Catskills. I still have the "coffin" music box, and Butch Morris is still very much alive and kicking, so I guess he was right to abandon the project – with me, at least. He did have a music box created by someone else, and you can see it here.
Back to Penck and his musical pals. Here is one of those "vanity" records with Butch. Filling out the ensemble are free jazz veteran Frank Wright and the Wollny brothers. The music is a marvelous amalgam of creative, free and downtown styles. The record was probably the result of an afternoon in the studio, a spontaneous creation that is a testament to the skill of the musicians involved. And Butch's skittering cornet is still one of my favorite sounds in new music.
And, in case you're wondering what the music box sounds like, click this player.
As always, these files were ripped from the original vinyl with, in this case, no cleaning of the sound.
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