Butch Morris, Gonzalez brothers, Randy Weston
Ron Scott | 10/13/2011, 11:18 a.m.
When looking to hear music that is full of creative spontaneity and daring improvisation, the person to see is Butch Morris, a meticulous and innovative conductor, composer and arranger.
Morris doesn't just push the envelope-he pushes it directly over the cliff, rejuvenating it with his own brilliant "conduction" concept. This process, which he initiated, is his distinctive way of creating orchestral and ensemble music.
You can catch Morris' conduction explorations with the Lucky Cheng Orchestra every Monday evening during October and November at Lucky Cheng's Chinese Restaurant, where waitresses dress in drag and walls are covered with busty pinups, located at 24 First Ave. in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Sets take place at 8 and 9:30 p.m. Admission is $10.
The Cheng Orchestra doesn't include your usual jazz instruments, but strikes a classical note with violas, cellos, bassoon, vibraphone, harp, bass and clarinet. Regardless of the configuration of instruments or musicians, Morris always takes his audience on an unbelievable journey.
His Orchestra Slang, where he conducted a chorus of voices not in song but reciting poetry, was phenomenal. The voices, all reciting different poems while being conducted like any regular ensemble, was a stroke of Morris' conduction genius. The vibrant voices made your body tingle. Wow.
Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris doesn't categorize jazz, avant-garde, blues or classical music-he uses it all to revolutionize his musicians as audiences fall under his unique spell of conduction.
On Oct. 14 and 15, Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) will feature special guests Andy and Jerry Gonzalez at 8 p.m. at Symphony Space, located on the corner of 95th Street and Broadway.
The ALJO will kick off its 10th anniversary season with "Andy & Jerry's: A Tribute to the Gonzalez Brothers." The brothers were founders of the pioneering, Bronx-born Fort Apache Band. O'Farrill will premiere his "Ft. Apache Concerto," a personal tribute to the brothers.
"Our music is a reflection of our experience here in New York City and of our consciousness of the cultural roots from the Motherland, Africa, which we keep alive," stated Jerry Gonzalez. "We are all second-generation [Afro-Hispanic-Indian] musicians living in New York City. We are bilingual, we play the blues and we play rumba. The seed planted by Dizzy, Charlie Parker, Mario Bauza and Machito y sus Afro-Cubanos, Chano Pozo, Cachao, Coltrane, Miles and Duke re-emerged and evolved further."
Jerry Gonzalez is a conguero and trumpeter, while Andy Gonzalez plays the upright bass and violin. Drawn to music as early as the age of 8, they began playing professionally while still in junior high school.
During these years, the brothers and their family lived in the Edenwald Projects in the East Bronx. Jerry Gonzalez played his congas on Sunday afternoons in the big park (where all the teenagers hung out styling and talking stuff); one of the main kids playing with him was Nanny Grant. Andy Gonzalez described him as one of the best players around. Unfortunately, Grant didn't follow his dream to become a musician. And although Grant passed away years ago, I'm sure he would be overjoyed to know his childhood friends, now great musicians, are still giving him big props.