Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

September 22, 2019

Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow, THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT (Lejazzetal, UK, CD)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:13 pm
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CD, issued 2019, Lejazzetal Records (UK)

you can order a copy at

morton back

Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941) is one of those figures in the American culture of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s whose name is still well-known, and to some extent his accomplishments are also known, but who is not given the credit that he is due as an innovator…and a person who was laying the foundation for what came later. In the world of cinema, someone like Mack Sennett might be a comparable figure. The jazz music of the 1920’s (the roots of which go back to the 1910’s and even before) is not celebrated that much today—-even figures who began in the 1920’s, such as Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman, are not usually lauded for their 1920’s work except by specialist jazz historians or musicians. Few bands doing an Ellington tribute would have a brass bass (tuba) instead of a string bass or a banjo instead of guitar, yet those are the defining characteristics of pre-1929 jazz. Even bandleaders as sophisticated as Ellington or Fletcher Henderson had them in their bands. Similarly, Jelly Roll Morton, often considered the first jazz arranger (whose “Jelly Roll Blues” was published in 1915, and who had been doing similar things for years prior to that), created an entire musical world within what would later be called the “jazz ensemble” prior to, say, Don Redman with Fletcher Henderson, or to the Ellington “Jungle Band” of the late 1920’s. It’s regrettable that Morton did not record in the 1910’s. His first known recordings date from Chicago in 1923, though he claims to have recorded on the West Coast in the 1910’s. There is documentation for his activities during the West Coast years, documentation which (except for actual surviving recordings) to a large extent backs up Morton’s claims (which were often laughed at back in the day), and fortunately, there is a large body of recordings from 1923 until Morton’s passing, in a number of diverse settings with a wide variety of musicians (and vocalists). Here is a link to a fine Morton discography, so you can start building your Morton collection, and discovering the joyous and pioneering work of this larger-than-life pianist-composer:

Jelly Roll Morton discography from Doctor Jazz (UK)

Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow (see pic below) spent 2018 recording all of Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions, and each week posted two new tunes to their Youtube channel, which you can access here:  Morton Project You Tube channel

For this new 2019 album, these gentlemen cherry-picked 15 pieces from Morton’s large body of work, both familiar and very obscure (including some pieces newly discovered in recent decades), and did high-quality studio recordings of them (the You Tube sessions are of a documentary nature, not intended to be the highest fidelity to be played on high-end equipment) for CD and digital release. And what an album it is! This duo brings virtuoso instrumental skills and a knowledge, based on decades of playing this repertoire, of what Morton himself would have thought to be interesting interpretations of the works in a duo format. Morton’s work, like much of pre-1926 jazz, sometimes strikes modern ears as “ragtime” rather than “jazz”, but the boundary between the two musics is a fluid one and the transition is gradual. When listening to a late 1910’s recording by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band or a 1940’s performance by Bunk Johnson, who originally developed in the late 1900’s and through the 1910’s, you can here musicians whose feet are clearly in ragtime as they reach for the stars. And ragtime itself is a genre capable of infinite variety within its parameters. Is ragtime REALLY any more rigid of a form than the music of Bach or of Philip Glass or Steve Reich? I think not, when you consider all the variety found within the music of those composers (and their disciples).

Morton’s music never gets old. I remember hearing one of (San Antonio’s own) Jim Cullum’s radio shows where he had on Dick Hyman, a man who has digested the entire jazz tradition, and Hyman explained the Morton style by playing a section of some piece, then played it as Morton would have played it, then explained what aspects of what he’d just played were uniquely Morton-esque, by replaying various phrases. It was a revelation. Morton’s concept of the “Spanish Tinge” is not easy to define, but you know it when you hear it.

This new album is one of the most exciting new releases of the year. The performances are fresh, spontaneous, and full of spirit. In particular, Mr. Horniblow’s use of the bass saxophone, an instrument not often used (Adrian Rollini showed how versatile it could be in his 20’s and 30’s recordings), is a revelation–I’m reminded of the old slogan of the 1960’s avant-garde label ESP-Disk, “You never heard such sounds in your life.” I had to remind myself that it was a bass sax producing the wide variety of pure sound engaged in a kind of dance with the pianist in some of these pieces.

We should be thankful that musicians such as the late Jim Cullum, and Dick Hyman, and Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow have dedicated their lives and working careers to keeping the rich tradition of jazz history current and relevant and ever-developing.

I can’t recommend this new COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT highly enough. Even if you have no recordings from Morton himself (and basically EVERYTHING he ever recorded should be public domain, so it’s out there for you to discover whenever you are ready), this new album is a fine entry point into Morton’s body of work and does a great job of establishing his significance. Whatever kind of music you are into, I can’t imagine you NOT getting into the spirit of Morton’s music and the passion of these performances.




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