Friday, November 16, 2007

Sellaband's MoRRis...Making It Sound Easy

My son was about seven when he began to show an interest in basketball. This was the golden age of the Los Angeles Lakers and kids patterned themselves after Magic, Kareem and Worthy. If you were white, you were automatically called Larry or Rambis. Seven and eight-year-old kids, identifying with their heroes, called themselves point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards before they had acquired the basic fundamental skills needed to simply become "basketball players." As my son grew (he is now 6'9" and in his seventh year as a pro in the European leagues) he accepted the importance of learning everyone's role on a basketball team. Instead of limiting himself to one position, he acquired, through hard work, the skills and knowledge of the entire game.

And what could this possibly have to do with music? Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to the music of a Danish artist known as MoRRis. And if MoRRis and his fine group of musicians were a basketball team, it would be poetry in motion. Everything about this artist's music betrays years of experience, diligent practice, volumes of knowledge and tremendous skill. And, as is the case with most highly skilled performers, be it sports or music, the end product seems to be delivered effortlessly, with an abandon that can only come with true mastery of the art.

Before I attempt to describe MoRRis' voice, I'd like to say a few words about the instrumental tracks presented on their Sellaband profile. Young musicians, through the exuberance of youthful peer pressure, frequently categorize themselves prematurely before learning the fundamental skills involved with being well-rounded musicians in much the same way as my son's young playmates did. I know this because I did it myself. After being the world's greatest rock bass player, I became the funkiest dog on the block. Eventually, I ended up thinking I could play jazz until my first string bass lesson with the late great Monty Budwig delivered a well placed kick in the nuts to my ego.

Every wannabe jazzer thinks he knows what the concept of swing is all about. It's easy, instead of straight eighth notes, you lope along in either a dotted-eighth/sixteenth feel or a triplet...or someplace in between the two. Soloing is easy too, just blow chord outlines and scales as fast as you can in a dah du dah du dah du rhythm. The only people that won't be fooled are the ones that, like me, didn't know what the fuck was really supposed to be happening. Monty changed all of that and slowly I began to understand why the best studio musicians were usually great jazz players. Take the great Motown musicians for example. The dominant character of their recordings is feel. Every song they recorded, no matter what the style or genre had great feel. And without the rock solid jazz background common to all those musicians, those recordings would never have felt the way they did then and still do to this day.

MoRRis' recordings feel amazing. One of the high points for me is the piano solo of "When You Go." The two-beat feel of the song would be the perfect vehicle for the usual boring "swinging" solo, but instead, the solo plays straight eighths against the swinging track. The result is a short, sweet interlude with just enough jagged edges to reflect the serious nature of the song's meaning. It's only ten bars, but it tells a story.

Each of the three tracks are played masterfully and unselfishly by musicians who are obviously enjoying themselves and in no hurry to get to the end of the song. The resonator guitar on "For Sale" doesn't dominate the track but is conspicuous for its beauty of tone and choice of notes. Everything this band plays is understated and elegantly executed. As I listened for details I found myself caught up in the creamy feel and the songs would come to an end before I could remember what details I may have been listening for.

Readers of this blog will know that I have taught, coached and worked with singers at every conceivable level for thirty years. I've worked with phenomenal voices that had no heart, average voices that sang their asses off, and everything in between. I take particular pleasure in writing this review because it affords me the opportunity of listening to something very unique. Once in a blue moon, a beautiful instrument is married to meticulous technique and MoRRis is just such an individual. He sings as if he is not singing at all and that is where the magic lies. His delivery is natural to the point that the listener is seduced into feeling that he is singing the song himself. Although this may seem effortless, it is no accident. From a technical standpoint, MoRRis has mastered the fine art of letting the song do the singing for him. Anyone who thinks this is easy is probably not a singer.

One aspect of MoRRis' delivery I find particularly engaging is his sense of time. As stated regarding the band, MoRRis sings these songs spaciously without a hint of urgency. It is as if he wants the song to last forever. His phrasing, while deep in the pocket of the track, is dictated more by the meaning of the lyrics than the position of the kick drum. MoRRis has a youthful sounding voice but uses it with the wisdom of a seasoned veteran.

What really sets MoRRis apart from the crowd though, is the pure beauty of his tone. He could probably sing the telephone directory and elicit an emotional response from an audience. The fact that he is singing beautiful songs to beautiful accompaniments takes the whole package to a higher level.

Sadly, Denmark is a bit of a drive from Los Angeles so I won't be seeing MoRRis play live anytime soon. But next time I go to the gym to shoot baskets, I'll have MoRRis on the headphones. Then I'll think of my son, the hard work that made him the player he is today, and the hard work that makes music like MoRRis' sound so easy.

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