Willie Morris, Attentive Listening Review


Willie Morris, Attentive Listening Review

by Stamish Malcuss

Willie-Morris-Jazz-Sensibilities-CD-2Willie Morris’ debut album, Conversation Startercaptured our attention with its youthful essence and robust musicality. Through his latest work, Attentive Listening, Morris continues to establish himself in jazz by exploring musical and interpersonal communication in this ten-track project. Hailing from the vibrant St. Louis music scene, Morris’s background is deeply rooted in the currents of jazz and its many art forms, imbuing his compositions and performances with a unique blend of traditional and current sounds.

Attentive Listening, released on March 1, 2024, by Posi-Tone Records, is an immersive sonic journey that showcases Morris’s virtuosity on the tenor saxophone, alongside the stellar musicianship of Patrick Cornelius (alto saxophone, alto flute), Jon Davis (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums, percussion). Produced by Marc Free and engineered by Nick O’Toole, this album was meticulously crafted at Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn, NY, and later mixed and mastered at Woodland Studio, Lake Oswego, OR, ensuring a pristine listening experience.

Morris’ compositions, particularly the first five tracks he penned for the album, delve into themes that resonate deeply in our modern, often distracted society. From the vibrant “Water Fountain Of Youth” to the contemplative “Terminal Lucidity” and the exploratory “The Imitation Game,” Morris invites listeners to engage in a form of attentive listening that inspires a transcendent auditory experience. These compositions reveal Morris’ acute awareness of the importance of focused engagement in music and life’s manifold interactions.

“Water Fountain Of Youth” opens with an ethereal Coltrane-esque rubato before transitioning into an up-tempo swing, a well-written melody that shows Morris’ grounding in the hard-bop and Post-bop traditions. His solo work is robust, marked by rich melodic development and harmonic complexity, perfectly complemented by Cornelius’s thoughtful approach to motif development. “Terminal Lucidity” introduces itself with a poignant piano introduction by Davis, unfolding into a beautifully written ballad that showcases the counterpoint potential of the horns in a narrative that touches on the reflective moments of clarity preceding life’s end.

“The Imitation Game” propels listeners into an up-tempo swing infused with Thelonious Monk’s harmonic sensibilities, highlighted by the chemistry between Kozlov and Royston. This track underscores the quintet’s ability to morph from a bebop mode into more liberated expressions, reflecting the evolution from imitation to individuality. “To Worlds Unknown” and “Delusion Of Understanding” continue this journey, with Morris offering some of his most compelling solo performances, exploring a wide range of emotions and technical prowess.

The contributions from Cornelius and Davis add further depth to the album, with “Leaving Paradise” evoking the refreshing essence of a tropical vacation through Cornelius’s enchanting alto flute and “Moving Right Along” and “Daly Minor Blues” showcasing Davis’s compositional and performance genius. The inclusion of Kenny Dorham’s “La Mesha” is a fitting homage to the jazz tradition, integrating seamlessly with the album’s overarching themes and tonal palette.

Attentive Listening is a solid sophomore release that embodies Morris’ dedication to the craft and his commitment to exploring the depths of musical and emotional communication. With each track, Morris and his ensemble invite listeners to embark on a journey that transcends the ordinary, fostering a deeper appreciation for the nuanced interplay of sounds, emotions, and ideas.

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