by Marc Weidenbaum
That line between classical and popular music is the crux of a musical philosophy that led to the formation of CounterCurrents, a year-old subsidiary of New World Records.
CounterCurrents was created by Arthur Moorehead in an attempt to expand New World’s perspective on American classical music.
Though Moorehead despises the term “chamber jazz”, it describes much of the CounterCurrents’ output, including work by the Jazz Passengers, Butch Morris, Tom Varner, Paul Dresher and Ned Rothenberg, and the New York Composers Orchestra. Moorehead explains his aversion: “If only because it’s a term that’s primarily associated with European classical music, and when I hear that term I think it’s an attempt to legitimize jazz, and I don’t think it needs it. The music is not played in chambers; it’s played in clubs. I prefer small-group music.” Perhaps the series’ two strongest efforts not coincidentally evidence the strongest European flavor: the Kamikaze Ground Crew septet’s intoxicating debut, The Scenic Route, includes a Stravinsky cover and an explicit ode to Satie and Chopin; and multi-instrumentalist Marty Erlich’s Dark Woods Ensemble, heard on Emergency Peace, mates his saxophones and wooden flutes with a cello and string bass, evoking strong tonal, if not compositional, affinities with the string quartet.
Having been suggested to that the Kamikaze’s effort stands above the rest of CounterCurrents’ releases, Moorehead responds enthusiastically: “There’s a group that really defines my idea of what ‘jazz’ should be, and that is it’s heavily compositionally influenced. The role of improvisation is something that comes after the context of the composition is outlined, and the improvisation fits into the compositional framework of the pieces. It’s not, ‘Let’s play heads, everyone blow three choruses, head out.’ There’s clearly a design.”