Dave Morgan: Blue Is More Than A Color

Mark CorrotoBy MARK CORROTO 
July 2, 2019
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With the modern availability of inexpensive recording technology, seemingly anyone can turn out a jazz release. It is, accordingly, a pleasure when a release comes about marked by superior craftsmanship. Blue Is More Than A Color, a jazz orchestra disc, is a fine example of not only excellent sound (not an easy task with 26 pieces) but smart compositions, skillful arrangements and impressive soloing. The recording is the brainchild of composer and bassist Dave Morgan, a mainstay of the north-east Ohio jazz scene. Morgan has gathered together some extraordinary talent including saxophonist Pete Mills, trumpeter
Jack Schantz, pianist Theron Brown and guitarist Brandon Coleman. 


The seven compositions were penned by Morgan with, as you might guess, the solos divided between his guests. Opening with "Point Of Beginning," and its insistent pulse of electric piano, percussion and some wordless vocals by Amanda Powell, Pete Mills glides his tenor saxophone over a tranquil sea of sound. Morgan's arrangements hush the power of his orchestra throughout the recording to draw out the sensations, spicing solos with just the right flavors. Here Mills' saxophones dances with Powell's vocals and the determined pulse of Morgan's bass. Like other renowned orchestras, those of Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and Russ Gershon's Either/Orchestra, the whole is complete only by a skillful assembly of its pieces. Elsewhere, the title track arrives on a bed of flutes and clement horns, before venturing into a Gil Evans Sketches Of Spain(Columbia, 1960) vibe. Like the arrangements of Evans, Morgan has no use for boundaries between jazz, classical and world music. Here Schantz' trumpet delivers a clear crisp solo before turning duties over to trombonist Chris Anderson. The same brightness is spread throughout. The quirky "Jungian Slip" fits nicely with the tight swinging "Cosmology." Morgan has built a joyful noise and captured it in technicolor. 

Track Listing: Point of Beginning; Blue Is More Than a Color; Jungian Slip; Coisa Nova; In This Moment; You Never Were; Cosmology.

Personnel: Dave Morgan: composer, arranger, leader, bass; Scott McKee: trumpet; J.D. Chaisson: trumpet; Joe Badaczewski: trumpet; Jack Schantz: trumpet; Howie Smith: alto sax; Nathan-Paul Davis: alto sax; Kent Engelhardt: alto sax, clarinet; Chris Coles: tenor sax; Dave Kana: tenor sax; Pete Mills: tenor sax, clarinet; Dan Heasley: tenor sax, flute; Brad Wagner: alto, baritone sax, clarinet; Chris Anderson: trombone; Sam Blakeslee: trombone; Jason Hadgis: trombone; Hakeem Bilal: bass trombone; Theron Brown: piano; Brandon Scott Coleman: guitar; Isaac Hraga: guitar; Dan Mihelarakis: guitar; Jim Rupp: drums; Glenn Schaft: drums, percussion; Anthony Taddeo: drums, percussion; Rex Benincasa: percussion; Amanda Powell: voice.

Title: Blue Is More Than a Color | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Being Time Records

Veteran bass player and composer Dave Morgan has seen something change about the Northeast Ohio jazz scene over the last several years.

“It’s so exciting to see young musicians stay around and lay roots in the community instead of leaving right away once they get good. We’ve seen this renaissance in Blu Jazz + Club they started in Akron, along with our great Bop Stop in Cleveland. It has really become a hothouse for music-making, “ Morgan said.

Morgan wanted to showcase in particular those players who’ve been part of Akron’s jazz renaissance by making an orchestral recording with them, but large-ensemble dates are expensive to produce. In order to help fund the project, in 2016 Morgan applied for a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grant. The Knight Foundation supports causes in the cities where the brothers once published newspapers.

The Arts Challenge grants are distributed in Miami, Detroit and Akron. Knight Foundation program officer Adam Ganuza shared why Akron was one the cities to receive these arts grants.

 

Akron is an incredibly creative place, especially for a place of its size. It really punches above its weight class in terms of the creative energy that it has. The Arts Challenge is intended to cast a really broad net to try to really identify and ultimately support ideas that come from all parts of the community,” he said.

Artists applying for the grant must submit a short proposal about their piece, which explains how the work will be created in and benefit the city. Ganuza felt that Morgan’s project celebrating Akron’s jazz scene was a perfect fit for what the Arts Challenge is meant to support.

“I think what is really special about Dave’s program is that it is really showcasing the organic talent that Akron and Northeast Ohio in general has. Dave does that in a way that is Akron-centric. It positions Akron as a regional hub for jazz,” Ganzua said.

After securing the funding, Morgan began the process of making the recording. He assembled 28 musicians ranging in age from 18 to mid-70s. The artists came from across genres. There were musicians from Apollo’s Fire and the Cleveland Orchestra as well as the funk band, The Admirables, and some of the region’s best jazz players.

Morgan said one of the most important elements the grant helped fund was the chance for the musicians to really hone the pieces by performing them numerous times before they entered the recording studio.

 

“We did a big concert of this music at E.J. Thomas Hall two years ago for their jazz festival, so we’ve had the music out in the world and work-shopped it, so when it was time to go into the studio, everyone was comfortable with it. It is essential to be able to work this stuff out over a longer period of time. The Knight Foundation has the foresight to allow us to take it to the next level,” Morgan said.

After playing and rehearsing the works, the ensemble entered the studio to record the disc titled ‘Blue Is More Than A Color.’” One of the centerpieces of the work is Morgan’s piece, which he dedicates to a fellow jazz musician who spent his career in Akron.

“‘Coisa Nova,’ is a piece composed in memory of Roland Paolucci, who is a musical father to so many of us on the recording. He was the founder of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Akron. He was a mentor to so many musicians, like Jack Schantz, who is the current director of that program and (Cleveland Jazz Orchestra Music Director)Paul Ferguson. This list goes on and on,” Morgan said.

Paolucci’s dedication to making art without leaving Akron to do it embodies the very essence of what Morgan wanted to celebrate on ‘Blue Is More Than A Color.’

 

DAVE MORGAN/Blue is More Than a Color:  Way too cool for jazz supported by American art's council money, this is a big band, cinematic effort from cats in Ohio that are pretty much choosing to stay put.  With a sensibility and sensitivity that keeps you rapt throughout, this highly creative and inventive work puts the main stream record business to shame that it won't encourage and grow records like this anymore. A thoughtful, encompassing work that real jazzbos ought rally around and encourage.  Smart stuff throughout.​
(Being Time 205)​

You don't have to know the work of the spiritualist G.I. Gurdjieff to revel in this complex, heady recording dedicated to his teachings.  Bassist Dave Morgan, who wrote all nine tracks, explains Gurdjieff in his liner notes.

Rather, the music speaks for itself.  It's urgent, funny, tender, pulse-pounding.  It features some of the best musicians in the Cleveland area, including Morgan, world rhythm master Jamey Haddad, trumpeter Jack Schantz, keyboardist Dan Wall, guitarist Bob Fraser, saxophonist Howie Smith, and drummer Nathan Douds.  It's all over the map, and wonderfully so, from the brooding tone poem of "The Search" to the otherworldly stomp of "Karnak" to the 12-bar blues of "Identifyin" (Blues for G).  It all works, making Sly Man an early contender for a top spot in the 2010 critic's polls.  

Among the highlights" "The Law of Three," a hard-rocking cut with a samba mid-section setting the creamy saxes of Smith and John Klayman against the penetrating trombone of Chris Anderson and Wall's piano stitching; the sweet chorale of "Bhakti"; and the soulful "Identifyin'" featuring Anderson, Klayman's funky sax and Val Kent's feathery drumming.  The musicianship is flawless, the production crisp, the soundscape expansive.

Morgan is exceptional at contrasting voicing and rhythmic complexity.  "Karnak," built on a 4/4 platform, bristles with trickier rhythms, making it dizzying and stimulating, particularly when Smith unfurls fearless free sax and keyboardist Wall burns as hot as Joe Zawinul ever did.

"For sheer creative euphoria, there was Dave Morgan's "Moon Palace," which began with tenor sax and bass limning the sinuous theme in unison before joining the others in a rich tapestry that gave [Sean] Jones plenty of space to take trumpet flight." 

Among the finest large jazz ensembles -- not only locally, but nationally -- the Jazz Unit has been playing regularly on Monday nights at the Bop Stop since 1994. But since that venue is temporarily closed, the band is doing this gig at Nighttown to keep a presence on the local scene. The Unit has already cut one CD, Choices -- an all-around excellent effort that features impressive compositions and arrangements by bassist Dave Morgan. Some of the finest jazz players in Northeast Ohio appear on it, including trumpeter/leader Jack Schantz, alto man Howie Smith, pianist Dan Wall, guitarist Bob Fraser, and vibe player Ron Busch. The Jazz Unit contains 13 pieces, including two trumpets; two trombones; a French horn; alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones (the tenor man doubles on flute); guitar; vibes; piano; bass; and drums -- an unusual instrumental makeup that leads to fresh and unique timbres. Morgan's got a modern, mainstream writing style that's been influenced by Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones, and the band also plays charts by Smith, a member of Cleveland State's faculty. Among his compositions are the 7/4 "In the Kitchen" and "Wayne's Whorl," a Wayne Shorter-like piece. Schantz has always been an inventive and melodic improviser, and his concentration on classical playing in recent years has given him a fuller, darker tone, better range, and more precise articulation, while Fraser has been influenced by pianists Bill Evans and Chick Corea, and he's a very intelligent improviser, as is Busch. John Clayman's a strong, lyrical tenor sax man, and Morgan also solos well; he and drummer Mark Gonder give the band a powerful, flexible underpinning.
Ever since the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1984, it's been attracting great jazz instrumentalists, singers and arrangers from both coasts. After trumpeter Jack Schantz became it's third artistic director in '93, the band also began attracting some much-needed bread. What you hear on this, it's third CD, is a 17-piece juggernaut featuring tenorist Joe Lovano and his wife, singer Judi Silvano. Her uncanny ability to duplicate a lead line adds another instrument to the mix. Emerging as the star of this session is the band's bassist, Dave Morgan. A truly gifted arranger, Morgan's five-part suite, "The Surprise of Being," is the albums creative centerpiece. The suite is a wellconstructed big-band workout: the title track is an energetic, brass plated fanfare that provides a challenge and sounding board for Lovano's gritty blowing. The ensuing movements, particularly "The Looking Glass," incorporate Lovano's big tones with Silvano's soaring wordlessness, which varies from ethereal to playful as she utilizes her highly personal scat, propelled by drummer Nate Douds and bassist Morgan. It's an exotic, atmospheric gem of orchestral colors and big-band swing. Another peak: "Viva Caruso," showing off sectional tightness and first-rate unison (note Silvano's doubling of the brass licks) plus impressive solo depth in trumpeter Jim Powell and vibist Ron Busch.
David Morgan writes for both the jazz and classical worlds. The triptych that is the Three Vignettes was written specially for Greg Banaszak. The first vignette is The Secret of the Golden Flower and moves without effort between Vaughan Williams and an Oriental sway: fast, punchy and meditative. Consolation has the contours of a primitive church hymn moving through a mist of melancholy. The final First Light makes play with Latin-American dance. Elements of rumba and tango are married to 1950s-style commercial sophisticated light music. Morgan's writing is delicate and luminously orchestrated.

Blue Is More Than A Color