JJ 09/73: Morning Glory

Fifty years ago, Charles Le Vay was disappointed by the structural conservatism of Morning Glory but admired soloing from Surman and Rypdal. First published in Jazz Journal September 1973

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After the stern austerity of ‘The Trio’ and the solitariness of ‘Westering Home’, my reactions to Surman’s comeback in the company of a thick-set six-piece band are still mixed, possibly because pre-conceptions about where his next direction lay even now often obscure the music. Admittedly, this is a bad state of affairs, but it’s that sort of al­bum, and Surman’s move into an in­strumentation previously uncovered by him, while not entirely unforeseen, does pose particular problems, essentially of structure and improvisation.

Immediately striking is the highly conservative nature of all the composi­tions’ construction. All begin with free passages, usually thoughtful and re­strained, build up gradually to a boisterous climax, which in turn forces a predictable introduction of an in-tempo section based on a simple chord se­quence and a suitably irregular rhythm. Eventually, this transition from ‘free’ in­to ‘time’ becomes too contrived and calculated, and the resulting sense of over-familiarity stems from the similar use of this kind of cliché by groups like Nucleus.

Norwegian Steel-Septimus shows this structural line of develop­ment more than any other track: Laurence and Griffiths grope forward together unsteadily in some unthinkable tempo, thereby turning the composition against itself and negating the previous construction. Iron Man suffers much the same treatment in Latin-American style.

Morning Glory’s attitude to improvis­ation is largely collective, and while this succeeds in Cloudless Sky, a haunt­ing and atmospheric piece of self-perpetuation, real strength in Hinc Illae Lacrimae is blurred by self-conscious hesitation. This collectiveness hampers much of the individual soloing, but ironically, Surman and Rypdal, initially the toughest to follow, offer the most definite rewards on closer listening. Rypdal’s confused bustling bides its time until, like in Iron Man, he explodes into a fire-ball of energy. Surman for his part exudes a new sense of relaxa­tion which is not obvious on first listen­ing; his soprano often floats gracefully, while on occasions his clarinet lurks in almost meditative ease.

‘Morning Glory’ doesn’t emerge as the success one could have expected of it. But despite its general disappointment, its ability to bear repeated playing usually sheds light on previously under­estimated individual soloing.

Discography
Cloudless Sky; Iron Man (20½ min) – Norwegian Steel-Septimus; Hinc Illae Lacrimae-For Us All (22 min)
John Surman (sop/bs-clt); John Marshall (dm); Terje Rypdal (gtr); Chris Laurence (bs); John Taylor (pno/el-pno); Malcolm Griffiths (tbn). Canterbury 12/3/73.
(Island ILPS 9237 £2.19)