Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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MORRIS, Butch

(b Lawrence Douglas Morris, 10 February 1947, Long Beach CA; d 29 January 2013, Brooklyn NY) Cornet, composer. He played with many of the finest around: J. R. Monterose, Bobby Bradford, Frank Lowe, Arthur Blythe, Charles Tyler, Hamiet Bluiett; went to Europe with Lowe '76-7 and stayed for a while, recording with Steve Lacy; he worked with David Murray, notably on Ming '80 on Black Saint; with Lowe on Skizoke '81 on Cadence; worked in the New York loft scene with Bill Frisell, Bobby Previte and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, on Horvitz's albums Nine Below Zero and (co-led) Some Order, Long Understood on Black Saint. His own albums included Current Trends In Racism In Modern America '85 (with Lowe, John Zorn, Thurman Barker and others) and Homeing '87 (with electronics, oboe, French horn etc) on sound aspects, Dust To Dust '90 on New World with a lineup of twelve including Horvitz and Andrew Cyrille, and a trio set, Burning Cloud '93 on FMP (with J. A. Deane on trombone/electronics, Le Quan Ninh on percussion).

He had been influenced by bandleaders Horace Tapscott and Chales Moffett on the west coast, and by classical composers such as Lucas Foss and leonard Bernstein. Current Trends was the first example of Morris's 'conduction' method of organizing and directing an ensemble; then came Testament: A Conduction Collection, a ten-CD set on New World, compiling 15 conduction events (out of 50) played '88-95 in San Francisco, NYC, Florida State U, Canada, Turkey, Japan and several European countries with as many large groups. Morris plays on only one of the CDs; his aim was to 'compose, (re)orchestrate, (re)arrange, and sculpt with notated and non- notated music. Using a vocabulary of signs and gestures ... the conductor may alter or initiate rhythm, melody, harmony' and even develop structure. He does not claim to have originated this approach, which many others from Sun Ra to John Cage have used; one is reminded of Roscoe Mitchell recording 'The Maze', passing out pages in no particular order to eight percussionists who played when he pointed at them. Michael Rosenstein in Cadence describes the Conduction set as 'like an exhibit in an art museum ... offering a fascinating context for listening', choosing as the most successful in the set 'The Akbank Conductions', 'a meeting of West and Middle East where gongs, percussion, washes of electronics, chattering pocket trumpet, pulsing vibes, and harp mix with traditional Turkish musicians ... to spin a dense, swirling exotic tapestry', and 'Cherry Blossom', which 'hypercharges traditional instruments with jolts of electronics, turntable scratching and burbling bass clarinet as the 14 musicians careen through a madly staggering improvisation of accompaniment to two Butoh dancers'.

Morris had spent 1998-2001 in Istanbul, and wanted to move to Italy for a couple of years; he spoke of starting a new educational project in Bologna, but lung cancer was diagnosed in August 2012.