Concert Review: Joe Morris and DoYeon Kim Illuminate the Boiler House Jazz Series

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Macrocosm. Defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the whole of a complex structure, especially the world or the universe, contrasted with a small or representative part of it.” 

This is how Joe Morris and DoYeon Kim define the music that they create together.

On Thursday, March 14th I had the sincere pleasure of experiencing a very special musical interaction between these two thoughtful and innovative artists that left me with a feeling of wholeness. 

Together they played an hour of completely improvised music that featured an array of textures, dynamics, melodies, and rhythms. The world of free improvisation is undeniably experimental and can be abrasive for first time listeners, but anyone watching Morris and Kim work together can tell how closely they are communicating. 

Joe Morris is one of the most prolific free improvisers around. An active professional since the 1970s, Morris is well-known in the new music world and has collaborated with most artists who are willing to be open-minded and experimental. He performs all over the world, has been involved in producing many festivals and concerts, and he was named Best Guitarist of the Year in 1998 and 2002 at the New York Jazz Awards.

DoYeon Kim is considered by many to be the best classical gayageum player of her generation. The gayageum is flat, wooden, and zither-like. It typically has 25 strings and is the national instrument of Korea. The tuning varies (especially for a daring musician like Kim) and allows the player access to an array of micro-tones (the notes between the notes) thanks to each movable bridge. After being accepted to the Contemporary Improvisation program at New England Conservatory, Kim began to study with Morris, who was the first to share the exciting realm of experimental communication through sound that is Free Improvisation. After obtaining her degree in 2014, Kim and Morris continue to work, play, and record together.

Their first album, Macrocosm, was recorded in September 2018 and released shortly after. The feeling I get from listening to it is exactly the one I felt while experiencing their work live. It is complete. The variety of sounds they produce is unlike any that you may associate with popular music. It is as if they are using the vibrations of their instruments to paint a picture.

After the concert, Morris and Kim opened up for questions from the audience. I was so happy to hear about their philosophy behind their music. They want to be free of constraints and play the sounds of nature and the universe. Again, in short: a macrocosm of life.

The duo launched this season’s Boiler House Jazz series, which is organized by Ken Field and John Bechard and occurs every other week in the Spring and Fall. It is hosted by The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham, MA. This historic building was once home to the first textile mill in the world, which was also the first integrated factory in the United States. Its cavernous structure gives it wonderful acoustics in an intimate setting.

Upcoming concerts include a collaboration by Armenian instrumentalist Martin Haroutunian and drummer Yoron Israel on April 4th and a collaboration by string harpist Charles Overton and vibraphonist Julian Loida on April 18th. Both concerts start at 8pm. Visit the museum’s website for more information! I am excited to engage more with this venue and to experience more of this wonderful series. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Make sure to check out Morris’ and Kim’s websites too. You can also listen to and download their album here. Keep up to date with what these exciting artists are up to!