by Ian Mann
January 21, 2014
A highly accomplished album full of interesting writing based around strong melodic themes. This is music capable of considerable cross genre appeal.
Andrew Morris / Theo Jobst
“Give Take - Twelve Explorations for Saxophone and Piano”
Andrew Morris is a pianist, composer and educator who is based in my home town of Leominster, Herefordshire. Morris teaches music at Hereford Sixth Form College but is also an experienced composer and performer with a number of self released albums to his credit.
For the past ten years Morris’ writing has been inspired by the Flower Remedies of Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936), a locally based (Crickhowell, Powys) homoeopath who devised a whole philosophy around the process of natural healing, a fascinating mix of the medical and the mystical rooted in Bach’s deep Christian faith. In contemporary language Bach’s approach was totally “holistic”.
Morris’ website http://www.musicalremedies.com offers a fascinating insight into Dr. Bach and his world, explaining something about both Bach’s original Flower Remedies and the music that they inspired Morris to create. Dr. Bach devised a series of thirty eight remedies based upon the properties of plants commonly found in Britain at that time. Morris has now completed a series of short compositions inspired by all of these remedies, a process completed with the result of “Give Take”, a duo recording featuring Morris’ piano alongside the alto and soprano saxophones of nineteen year old Theo Jobst, one of Morris’ former sixth form students. Subtitled “Twelve Explorations for Saxophone and Piano” the album is the fifth in the “Musical Remedies” series. Previous releases have ranged from a solo piano recording to albums featuring a full band with lyrics by vocalist Harriet Edwards. Morris’ ensembles have often included former students, including flautist Mikey Kirkpatrick who has subsequently won himself something of a cult following under the name Bird Radio, a bizarre one man band that somehow fuses Jethro Tull and Captain Beefheart with a grand sense of English Gothic.
It must be stressed that the music on Morris’ “Musical Remedies” is entirely original. Edward Bach has absolutely nothing to do with Johann Sebastian Bach although Morris has explored the synchronicities between them on his “Bach to Bach” album which links J.S Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues (aka “The Well Tempered Clavier”) with Dr. Edward’s 38 Remedies. Again further information on this project can be gleaned from the Musical Remedies website.
It has to be said that the music on “Give Take” is overwhelmingly melodic and highly accessible. The title is derived from both the musical “give and take” of duo performance and the giving and taking of Bach’s remedies themselves. Morris mixes classical harmony and folk melody and Jobst’s saxophones have enough of a jazz tinge to make the music appealing to readers of this site (the young musician also plays sax with the local jazz combo Castle Street Quartet). Indeed the music is capable of considerable cross genre appeal, I can imagine any one of these twelve pieces sitting well within the context of Radio 3’s “Late Junction” programme.
“Give Take” was recorded at The Hatch Studio in nearby Worcestershire and was engineered to a high professional standard by Hugh Fielding, the sound on the album is immaculate throughout.
Morris’ liner notes offer informative insights into each piece beginning with “Crab Apple”. Bach describes it as a remedy of purification, bringing generosity and clear perspective to a sense of self disgust”. It’s a strong opening piece with a memorable theme and an insistent piano rhythm which buoys Jobst’s sometimes impassioned alto playing. The return of the main melody after a turbulent middle section represents the act of purification, the return of light and joy.
“Clematis” is said to bring creativity and rootedness to a state of daydreaming. Musically it’s less frenetic than the opener but its long melody lines offer plenty of space for improvisation by both alto and piano, the embodiment of the creativity the remedy is intended to provide.
“Agrimony” is stated to bring discernment and inner joy to a state of shadow avoidance, or the act of hiding from life’s difficulties. The opening and closing sections are pleasantly up-tempo excursions in a tricky but ultimately invigorating 7/8 time signature. A slower central section with Jobst’s alto deploys blues inflections to suggest the shadows the remedy is designed to counteract.
Jobst switches to soprano for “Water Violet”, a delightful piece with a simple harmonic structure but a gorgeous melody. The remedy is said to bring humility and wisdom to a state of isolated withdrawal and arrogance. It certainly works as there is a real joyousness in the way Jobst’s soprano dances lightly around Morris’ often exuberant piano figures.
“Scleranthus” is the most experimental piece on the album, edging close to free jazz on a turbulent, loosely structured intro. There is also an intense middle section featuring some of the most full on improvising of the set. The remedy is said to bring a sense of “versatile determination and balance to a state of violent mood swings and indecision”. Its virtues are expressed via a strong main melody underpinned by unusual 8/8 and 7/8 rhythmic patterns as the turmoil is gradually resolved.
The following “Vervain” is very different in mood, the remedy designed to “bring self discipline and restraint to a state of excessive idealism and intensity”. Initially harmonically complex the piece actually becomes more simple as it progresses, an aural depiction of the efficacy of the remedy.
“Sweet Chestnut” is the second piece to feature the soprano saxophone. It was actually the last of Bach’s thirty eight remedies and is said to bring “faith and resurrection to a state of utter emptiness and loss of hope”. It works via a combination of lyrical melody, sketched by Jobst’s soprano, and slow flowing piano accompaniment. However even here the composer introduces some interesting harmonic shifts along the way.
Jobst returns to the alto for the uplifting “Cherry Plum”, the remedy said to “bring courage and spiritual strength to a state of fear of losing control”. Morris describes the theme as featuring a falling tritone. It’s the transformation of this to a higher octave and simpler theme that gives the music its uplifting and redemptive quality as it “soars higher towards the light”. The duo often conclude their live performances ( these sometimes augmented by young double bassist Sam Powell) with a version of this piece.
“Elm” brings “self assurance and conviction to a state of being overwhelmed by responsibility”. However it’s a difficult process as expressed in the probing harmonies and the 5/4 time signature of the central section. There’s a genuine sense of melancholy about this piece which is absent from much of the rest of the album.
The following “Wild Oat” lifts the mood, the remedy bringing “clarity and purpose to a state of dissatisfaction and frustration” Featuring Jobst on soprano sax the piece repeats its theme three times, the mood changing from “shyness through questing exploration to fruition and clarity”.
Jobst’s incisive soprano sounds almost oboe like at times.
“Rock Water” is one of the album’s most beautiful pieces. The remedy is said to bring “adaptability and freedom to a state of rigidity and compulsion”. Morris explains that the theme is “based on rising and falling sixths and a simple bass line”. Whatever the technicalities it’s inescapably beautiful with Jobst on alto impressing with his purity of tone and improvising more freely as the piece progresses, the duo embodying the nature of the remedy.
The album closes with the relatively sombre “Pine”, a remedy said to bring “understanding and forgiveness to a state of self reproach, guilt and despondency”. The slow moving intro emphasises the spirit of “holding on”. Only as the piece progresses do we encounter a sense of “letting go” as Jobst’s alto begins to soar and as Morris puts it “we discover that our essential energy has always been with us”.
“Give Take” approaches what to many might seem an esoteric subject and presents it in a thought provoking but ultimately highly accessible way. This is a highly accomplished album full of interesting writing based around strong melodic themes and it is superbly played by the composer and his young apprentice. As I mentioned earlier the engineering and production is also a considerable asset. There’s a spiritual, Zen like air about much of this music which suggests that it should hold a wide appeal to listeners across several genres (jazz, classical, folk).
“Give Take” represents the culmination of a ten year labour of love for Andrew Morris and it’s an album that deserves to be widely heard, transcending the borders of North Herefordshire.As I mentioned previously these pieces would sit well alongside Jan Garbarek on Late Junction. How about it Ms. Talkington?blog comments powered by Disqus