Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Peter V. C. Morris, A Musical Portrait

Peter V. C. Morris may perhaps be a new name to you as he was to me until now. Pianist, saxophonist, he studied piano with Lennie Tristano, classical piano with David Saperton, and tenor sax with Warne Marsh. He was part of the Tristano scene when Lennie had his New York studio on 317 East 32nd Street and admired Lennie's music as well as Marsh and Charlie Parker. All that makes definite sense as you listen to A Musical Portrait (New Artists NA 1067), a full CD of (one assumes) home recordings of the artist on piano (and one on tenor sax) in 1954, 1955, 1959, and one from 1988.

The idea of a "portrait" rings true, as the totality of the selections do manage to paint for us a complex totality of what Peter was about. So we get him running through some classical compositions by Chopin and Bach, some standards with accompanying improvisations and then some Morris free improvs and a compositional idea or two.

It is true that as home recordings these do have flaws. The audio quality is sometimes very good and sometimes not as good, though the latter are in the minority. The piano is sometimes significantly out-of-tune. But then those few cuts that have that problem  also contain some inspired improvs so if you can ignore the tuning you get a better idea of the Morris musical mind at work. After a first listen I started cutting through the tuning defects and really appreciating what Peter was doing.

And now after a good number of listens I must say that Peter Morris here shows us at his best a definite post-Tristano talent. Listen to his singing approaches to Bach's "Allemande" and "Sarabande" from the "French Suite No. 2" (1959). Listen to the chromatic-diatonic freeplay on "Flamingo" (1955), the original open improv "Counterpoint" (1955), or the remarkable "Boston 1954" and its early foray into free improv, or for that matter his "Peter's Blues" (1955) and you'll hear someone traveling his own path, someone who deserved to be better known in his heyday.

The "warts and all" of this set needs to be considered along with its decided merits but all-in-all we get a happy glimpse of someone it is certainly very good to hear. It is revealing for those intent on understanding the full gamut of emerging avant jazz piano in the '50s. After a good week of intense listening to this I must say there is much to recommend it for those serious about their avant-free jazz history. The bright moments are bright indeed. Just listen.