Six weeks ago, I was introduced to the art of "conduction" by Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar, where Tate waved his arms around to indicate highs and lows, fasts and slows among his players. The system was originally developed by Lawrence "Butch" Morris back in the mid 70's, and has developed into a complex series of gestures that not only control tempi and dynamics, but also elements of phrasing, key and pitch, so that no actual "score" is needed. The music ends up falling somewhere between free jazz and contemporary classical.
Morris himself was at Barbes last night, testing out some new works in something he calls his "Sketch Salon." The quintet was wind-heavy, consisting of Kirk Knuffke on Trumpet, Tony Barba on Clarinet, Christof Knoche on Bass Clarinet, Michael Attias on Alto & Bari Sax, and Eivind Opsvik on Double Bass. With nothing else to focus on, the players all followed the wild sweep of Morris' baton; at one point, Morris slapped it against the tin ceiling when he didn't get his intended result. The whole thing sounded like Ellington on acid: full of bleats and squawks, rising and falling like some kind of sickly accordion. I haven't yet decided if Morris is a charlatan or a mad genius.