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September 2007

Nublu Orchestra
Nublu Orchestra Conducted by Butch Morris
Nublu

The most fascinating thing about Butch Morris’ “conduction”—his spontaneous composition method using coded hand gestures—is not the system itself, but its boundless adaptability. Ideally suited for free-jazz instrumentalists, conduction can be just as compelling in a spoken-word context. Morris, for instance, has given performances with actors reading random fragments of text. The raw materials, in other words, are almost incidental; the result is always sound beyond style.

Stop into the club Nublu, deep in New York’s East Village, and you’re likely to see Morris socializing, listening to cutting-edge DJs and soaking in the new. It stands to reason that he would employ these sounds in his own work. Enter the Nublu Orchestra, with personnel drawn from the multifarious bands that play (or use to play) the club: Wax Poetic, Brazilian Girls, Kudu and more. Eddie Henderson, Graham Haynes, Kenny Wollesen and Doug Wieselman join the party as well. The players are listed on the back cover, but their instruments are left unspecified, as if to underline the collectivist nature of the project.

Produced by Nublu owner/curator Ilhan Ersahin (who has transformed the club into a brand, with its own record label), the album is a shape-shifting mélange of electro-acoustic beats, digital blips, jaggedly harmonized horn passages and minimalist vocal effects. While Morris’ methods ensure one-of-a-kind results—check out the uncommon rhythmic feels of “City Light” and “Steppin’ On Toes”—the soundworld he conjures here is reminiscent of Meshell Ndegeocello’s Dance of the Infidel or Wallace Roney’s Prototype.

If any release merited a bonus DVD, it would be this. But not being able to see Morris, as he cues the ensemble with elaborate hand signs, can serve to enhance the listening experience. It’s possible, at times, to observe conduction with the mind’s eye, most clearly during “L.E.S. Gardens,” when willowy 12/8 time suddenly gives way to explosive rubato dissonance.

Originally published in September 2007
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