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, Justins
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 Morells
music is reminiscent of Pekka Pohjolas 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
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?
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 didnt 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 playIm pretty sure this is where
I got the urge to write as much as play.
My moms dad was a pianist/bandleader/composer, writer of some
great 1940s pop tunes like Youve Changed,
Well Be Together Again, Who Wouldnt
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 moms 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, weve
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 records 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 1990s, but my compositional aptitude has
developed quite a lot since then. Both records are built around the
improvising of some brilliant players.
Miles Davis is an influence on everything I do, though I wasnt
looking to his music specifically for this project. In fact, I dont
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 influentialonly
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 dont know where it fits into 21st century
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 isnt 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 wholeand thats 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?
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 1960s, 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. Ive
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 335in 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 Daversas 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