JUSTIN MORELL
Subjects And Complements
(Sonic Frenzy Records)

 

One of the most adventurous and sonically innovative instrumental CD releases in the jazz world of 2013 is Subjects And Complements by Justin Morell Dectet. Based around a series of jazz compositions that requires ten musicians, Subjects And Complements features Justin's jazzy electric guitar backed up by a number of musicians centered around a full horn section. Although horn driven, Justin’s CD has little to do with typical big band music or swing era jazz. Instead the music on Subjects And Complements is based around classical fugue stylings that was pioneered in centuries past by classical music masters like J.S. Bach, Mozart, Bartok and others. Commenting on the classical connection, Justin explains, ‘My intention is not to draw comparison. I simply like the musical journey that can only occur in fugal composition, and have enjoyed the challenge of sailing in these mostly uncharted waters.’ Composed by Justin Morell and recorded in Southern California, Subjects And Complements is being compared to some of the music of Miles Davis and with its occasional application of bass ostinato notes, some of Morell’s music is reminiscent of Pekka Pohjola’s early solo works. An album worthy of repeated listening, Subjects And Complements by Justin Morell Dectet is filled with lushly recorded sounds inspired by both classical music and jazz and as such is required listening for fans of adventurous instrumental music. www.JustinMorell.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
JUSTIN MORELL



mwe3
: Where are from originally and where do you live now and what do you like best about it? What was your background in music like? I know your family is quite well versed in jazz tradition. At what point did the guitar enter your life?

JUSTIN MORELL: I am from Los Angeles originally, and much of my family is still living there. After spending some time in San Francisco, Eugene and Portland, Oregon, and Atlanta, I am now living near Hershey, PA. I moved to Hershey for a job at Lebanon Valley College where I teach theory and composition. I love LVC and am working with some wonderful faculty musicians. I also love the farmers markets nearby- unlike anything I have experienced before - and a few of our local restaurants. We have only been here for a few months, so I am still getting to know the place.

I grew up around a lot of really great musicians, many of whom were active in the L.A. studios, the jazz scene in L.A., or both. I started playing guitar quite young, since guitars were all over my house when I was a kid, but I didn’t start taking lessons until I was about nine years old. At the same time I was interested in writing music, and made my first attempts at recording and writing little tunes around the same age. My dad is a guitarist, who worked in the studios for many years, and he always had a small band while I was young. They would play at the house once a week, and most weeks my dad would have written something new to play—I’m pretty sure this is where I got the urge to write as much as play.

My mom’s dad was a pianist/bandleader/composer, writer of some great 1940’s pop tunes like “You’ve Changed”, “We’ll Be Together Again”, “Who Wouldn’t Love You”, and others. He died very young, and though I never knew him I certainly felt his influence on the family. My aunt Terry, my mom’s sister, is a wonderful jazz singer, and my mom sings professionally a bit as well... so the music comes from all sides.

mwe3: How did the Subjects And Complements album come together and how does it compare with your other albums? Some have cited Miles Davis as an inspiration for Subjects And Complements. Were there any sonic guideposts for you to draw upon and where do you see the album fitting into the world of 21st century jazz? Also can you say something about the title? I got confused between compliment and complement! (lol)

JUSTIN MORELL: The idea for Subjects And Complements came about rather suddenly. I had been writing some music for a small group project, the instrumentation of which was unspecified, and I got a note from my longtime great friend John Daversa, we’ve known each other since about a week old, no kidding. John had worked with me on a septet project some years ago, and he mentioned to me that I should get some music together to do another septet record. Hearing that from him, and knowing that he would want to be involved in it, got me focused on putting a whole record’s worth of music together. I had played a concert earlier that year (2011) with jazz composer James Miley in which we each wrote a few works for a 10-piece group, and I loved the instrumentation, so I told John we would be expanding the septet idea a bit for the record. Within about a week I had called and lined up all the players for the recording.

I think this new project is similar in spirit to the septet record we made in the late 1990’s, but my compositional aptitude has developed quite a lot since then. Both records are built around the improvising of some brilliant players.

I think Miles Davis is an influence on everything I do, though I wasn’t looking to his music specifically for this project. In fact, I don’t think I was looking specifically to any jazz recordings or composers while I was composing the music. In fact, I was trying to steer away from jazz structures as much as I could without losing the thread of improvisation as an important part of the musical structure. This is not to say that great jazz composers were not influential—only that the influence was probably more subconscious and already deeply built into my thinking as a composer. Rather, I was looking at a lot of Bach, Hindemith, Shostakovich, Britten. I was really interested in musical forms that start somewhere and must move forward in continuous development, without reliance on ostinato and repetition. That brought me to fugue. I guess I don’t know where it fits into 21st century jazz, yet.

I used the title Subjects And Complements much the same way that composers might pair preludes and fugues. Fugues have “subjects”, and the pieces that are not fugues on the record are “complements” to these fugues.

mwe3: The blend of jazz and classical isn’t a new idea yet you clearly have some new ideas in play here. When did the idea of combining classical Fugues with jazz come to you and how did you decide and then pick and choose what musicians would assist you in the recording process? Who else would you cite as being instrumental in the making of the Subjects And Complements CD?

JUSTIN MORELL: I have long liked fugue as a compositional device, and have used it from time to time as part of a larger work. This is the first time that I really focused on the fugue as a significant freestanding element. Once I knew that much of the project would feature contrapuntal textures, I knew I would need to get the best players to make the music work. In this music, each part is so individual that the players need to be able to see their individual parts within the context of the whole—and that’s very difficult, especially with limited rehearsal. All of the players on the CD are people whose musical voices are so unique and warm. I really love hearing all of these guys in so many contexts, and I feel honored that they were willing to be a part of this record.

mwe3: You used the Gibson ES335 guitar on the Subjects And Complements album. What do you like best abut the 335 and what other guitars do you feature or play on the new CD and other times?

JUSTIN MORELL: I have always loved the sound and flexibility of the 335. My concept of what a guitar “should” sound like comes from my dad, and he played a 335 for most of his jazz career. I am lucky to have a really nice guitar from the late 1960’s, and I never get tired of it. One aspect of the 335 that is particularly important for me is the balance of the top register to the bottom. For comping, it is so necessary to hear the voice-leading of the top note of the chords, and a good 335 will bring out the top voice nicely. I’ve never been able to get a solid body guitar to have that quality. I also used a thin-body ES-125 on a couple things on the CD. That guitar speaks nicely on the top, and has a little more percussive attack than the 335—in exchange for some loss of sustain. I have a bunch of other guitars that I use from time to time, including a semi-hollow Tele copy, which works well for traveling, and a custom Carruthers 335-type guitar with an extended low range.

mwe3: What have you got planned musically for the remainder of 2013 and into 2013? How about new writings, recordings, session work and soundtracks?

JUSTIN MORELL: Most of my life is focused on teaching right now, but I have a few projects in the works. I just finished an arrangement of a piece for a wonderful saxophonist in Italy, Matteo Sabbatini. I have been playing again with John Daversa’s Progressive Big Band in New York, where he has put together an East-coast version of the group. I also have a few things coming up with Hashem Assadullahi. I have a couple of other composing ideas I would like to work on, but am awaiting funding. I am hoping that Subjects And Complements might lead to some new composing opportunities.

Thanks to Justin Morell @ www.JustinMorell.com

 

 
   
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