Recorded live on May 11th 1985 by Micha Schattner at The Cambridge Dance Center, Cambridge, MA, USA. Mastering: Jean-Pierre Bouquet, L’Autre Studio, Vaires-sur-Marne, France. Liner notes: Joe Morris. Cover design: Max Schoendorff. Cover realization: David Bourguignon, URDLA. Producer: Michel Dorbon
Tracklist: 1. Graffiti – Part I (37:22) 2. Graffiti – Part II (31:42) 3. Tag (0:53)
All compositions by Joe Morris, Lowell Davidson, Malcolm Goldstein, Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris
This was the period when the art world
was fixated on graffiti artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring etc. But street graffiti was everywhere back then and much was written about the quality, form and the act of “tagging”. To me, graffiti contained a similar spirit of subversive messaging to that of the music I was making with Lowell and elsewhere. The idea of tagging messages anywhere without permission using a kind of proto-tribal imagery even if was merely a cryptic scrawl had artistic and cultural power to me. The symbolism of the other or indefinable—identified as a name or logo, but otherwise secret—reflected what I sought as a combination of modern and ancient codes in my music using this new material. Being aware of this I decided to organize a concert with the title “Graffiti in Two Parts” meant to display these qualities in sound.
This recording is very special to me. It is only the second recording of Lowell Davidson to be released commercially. It represents a special period in my life and work and a unique community of musicians in Boston who did work that has gone mostly unnoticed, not unlike some encoded cryptic scrawl in an alley somewhere. If you listen closely you can hear street noise on the recording. Not planned, but welcome. — Joe Morris, excerpt from the liner notes.
We all have performances that we attended which get stuck in our head.
Years later, there are the indelible images; remembrances of the night, the venue, the musicians poised at their instruments, and that ineffable memories of the music that was created. The performance captured on this disc is one of those nights for me. On a warm May evening back in 1985, guitarist Joe Morris assembled a remarkable meeting between himself, violinist Malcolm Goldstein, cornetist Butch Morris, and the brilliant (and overlooked) master Lowell Davidson (1941-1990) on aluminum acoustic bass and drums. For years, there had been talk of the recording of that night being released but it seemed, after a while, that it might never come to fruition. But now, 27 years later, the music has finally resurfaced.
The ’80s were an exhilarating and active time in Boston for both the local musicians toiling to develop their music and the improvisers coming through on a regular basis. Morris was in the middle of things, working with musicians like Davidson, John Voigt, Tom Plsek, Laurence Cook, Steve Adams, or Alan Chase and crossing paths with visitors like Dewey Redman, Fred Hopkins, Thurman Barker and Billy Bang. Things came to a peak in February of ’85 with a festival at Tufts University that featured performances by Joe Morris, Jimmy Lyons, Leo Smith, a Butch Morris conduction, Jemeel Moondoc and Jerome Cooper, but regular sessions at clubs and galleries (though not always well attended) kept a vital pulse. Even in the mid ’80s, though, Davidson moved as a bit of a shadow-figure, and though he would play occasionally at galleries or local clubs, if people knew him at all, it was more from his reputation than from his performances. Ask around now and that’s even more the case. The only documentation of his music his ESP disk or more recently, MVP LSD, the disc Morris, Voigt and Plsek released based on his strategies for improvisation. Graffiti in Two Parts should help with that.
During the ’80s Morris had been actively working with Davidson, and for this concert he envisioned a cross-pollination drawing on Goldstein’s approach to structured improvisation and extended string technique, Davidson’s expansive sense of multi-layered textural flow, and the guitarist’s own explorations of the percussive attack and cascading polyrhythms of West African stringed instruments like the riti and gonji. He ran into Butch Morris a day before the concert at a local Cambridge club and invited him to join in, and the addition of the cornetist’s muted, calligraphic playing proved the perfect foil to round out the ensemble.
For Graffiti’s first set, I remember Davidson sitting on a short stool amidst a battered array of drums and cymbals, his lanky frame crouched so that his knees were up around his shoulders, wielding multiple mallets, sticks, and chopsticks in each hand. His orchestrated clatter, the plinking attack of banjouke (a four-stringed mash-up of a ukulele neck and banjo body), the skittering scrapes and sawed motifs of violin, and the clipped smears and fluttering looped kernels of cornet immediately click together on the recording with an idiosyncratic sense of interaction and motion. Their music is propelled along, but with the energy of excited fragments and textures caroming off of each other rather than with any notion of polyrhythm or open pulse. Likewise the distinctive timbres of each of the instruments dart and weave against each other in mercurial, intersecting trajectories rather than in any sense of call-and-response. Street noises and sirens waft in occasionally, complementing the spontaneously cycling skeins. At various points, a particular voice emerges — whether a freely lyrical thread or low groan from cornet, oscillating flayed violin arco, the thunder and splash of percussion, or the scrabbling cascades of banjouke notes — and Morris likens this to the way that the marks and tags of graffiti accrue on walls in overlapping layers of coded messages. But overall, this is a music of inextricable, multifaceted voices within the ensemble.
For the second set, Davidson switched to aluminum acoustic bass and the hard-edged resonance and slightly boomy sonorities of the instrument make subtle shifts to the dynamic of the collective improvisation. Morris also switches to electric guitar, but played mostly by bowing the strings with a slightly notched pick. Without the active spatter of percussion, this second piece moves more in ebbs and flows while still maintaining the dynamic tension of the first set. Here, even more so, the music sounds utterly unique, drawing on the momentum of free jazz and the non-idiomatic interaction of free improvisation while introducing a vocabulary and structural approach of its own. The momentum and structure, developed organically from the coursing intersection of the collective voices and the counterpoint of textures and harmonic overtones.
Sitting down and listening to this one only reinforces the memories of that night. The fact this is only the second recording of Lowell Davidson, and the only one to capture his mature voice is enough to recommend it alone. But this document is far more than that, and nearly four decades on, it sounds as captivating and inspired as the night it was performed. — Michael Rosenstein
Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris
One of my preferred albums of last year
and one that has been haunting for a while, and I have blamed myself more than once that I still had not reviewed it yet. The thing is : the music on this album is hard to grasp and hard to describe, but more than worth looking for.
The album brings a live performance from 1985 with Joe Morris on guitar and banjo-uke, Malcolm Goldstein on violin, Butch Morris on cornet and Lowell Davidson on aluminum acoustic bass and drums.
At first listen, this is free improv in the best European sense of the word, with sounds colliding out of the acoustic instruments, in a very granular fashion, like stones raining on industrial machinery, like rain dropping like stones, even if it sounds weird at first, some rhythm emerges on plucked violin strings, or on the banjo-uke. Once in while the granular, and often mesmerising sound gets a prolongation by bowed violin or long moaning tones on the cornet.
To my ears, the end result is of a devastating sadness, like small and vulnerable beings conversing about the woes that befell them, expressing feelings that defy storytelling and language whatsoever, yet the sounds produced reveal something more, undefinable and strange. The second track has more wailing sounds, with Davidson picking up his aluminum acoustic bass, the mesmerising percussive sounds are still there, yet are complemented with wave-like movements coming from cornet and violin.
The thing is : it is magical. All four musicians continue this hypnotising interaction for twice thiry minutes without any repetitive elements or phrasing while also staying extremely close to an almost primitive single tone persistance. Emphases change, volume changes, instruments change, yet the plucking and plocking goes on, captivating and beautifully. It’s magical because all four musicians move as one, creating a unique sound, one that sounds familiar like everyday objects while at the same time revealing some deeper unfathomable things. As I said, hard to describe. I can only recommend that you try it out for yourself, if you have open ears.
Again, we can only applaud RogueArt for releasing this music after so many years. — Stef
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)