CD Reviews

What the reviewers are saying about

Independent Songwriter Web-Magazine
All About Jazz
The Spill Magazine
The 1/2 Creeper
Splendid E-zine
Ink Nineteen
Aiding and Abetting

Independent Songwriter Web-Magazine

The January 5, 2000 issue of ISWM generously ran an extensive review of reeding between the lines.

Around the Corner kind of starts out like the late 70's pop hit, 'Telephone Man' but it doesn't hang around in that vicinity for very long. It's a jazzy, spiced-up, concoction that relishes in the self-indulgent masquerade of New Orleans savvy.

A Minor Incident A short-lived moment that lingers on the palette of refined taste. Bilderdijk Straat The luscious piano intro beckons to the subtle, sophisticated days of the lounge singer. Straight from the 20's era, it defines a class of entertainment better known for its tonal purity than its commercial feasibility.

Five Movements If only Rita Moreno could have heard this one. Romantic, whimsical, playful ... you can hear a reference to the West Side Story theme of The Jets ... reminiscent rapture.

Sunny Side Up Who would have thought that eggs could be so romantic? For those musical purists who enjoy the 30's and 40's era of innocent integrity, you will appreciate this gem. Vivian Quinn Sayles lends her exquisite touch on the piano accompaniment.

Past Eleven Snazzy, upbeat and colorful, it's one for those lovestruck couples who recall when real dance music was King.

Scrambled Eggs You know the love affair with this oval treasure is deserving of this 44 second tribute. Let us have a moment of silence please.

From the Peacock If a proudful peacock had an anthem, this would be it. Scrumptious The music you know and love from the old Benny Goodman era is alive and well and in very capable hands. This is sultry romance done with sophistication.

Place Pigalle Combine the Old World Italian goodness of the squeezebox with a mini operetta and you have this cheery little ditty full of charm and wholesome goodness.

America's Legacy The piano playing is old-fashioned, just like the way Grandma used to play in church. It's a strong, predictable, and stable presentation that brings back some fond memories. Uncomplicated purity.

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat [arrangement] This is the perfect music for a detective movie. The detective sits in his office ... smoke billows from an oversmoked cigarette float towards the slow-moving ceiling fan ... Suddenly, there's a knock at the door ... a dame walks in, uninvited ... well, you get the picture. This song has its own story.

Before the Storm Wistful, sorrowful, longing. After the Storm It laughs ... it mocks ... it sneers ... it moves on to the next victim. Eat this up.

The Summary The music of Valarie Morris is emotionally stirring, to say the least. Sometimes, it's hard to tell exactly what the music is conjuring up inside of the listener. Each song touches on different aspects of the human experience. Sometimes it will make you laugh ... sometimes it will make you think ... sometimes it will make you stir uncomfortably in your seat.

Many critics have applauded her charming sense of musical humor but it only takes a gander past the giddy surface to see a woman who is deep and intelligent. By using the mirror of distraction, she can convince the listener that the music is just a soundtrack for those rekindled memories, when actually, the music is a catalyst that shapes the experience. That's the mark of a true genius."


Jade Falcon wrote this Year 2000 review published in Rambles, a cultural arts magazine.

When I first heard Valarie Morris' work on reeding between the lines, I wondered where the synthesizers where. Instead of using technology to help put her music forth, Morris choreographs a multitude of live musicians and vocalists in her latest album.

The album is a nice compilation of jazz and folk music, but with a wonderful twist. Morris places layers and layers of instrumental music upon one another, forming a stew of sound. Accordions, saxophones, piano and multiple vocals lay a nice groundwork.

The first song, "Around the Corner", takes layers of accordion music—yes, that's right, accordion music—and puts it into a light-hearted jazz tune that is accompanied by the sax. Place Pigalle (another song with an accordion lead) reminds me of sitting quietly at an Italian restaurant being serenaded by an accordion-playing waiter. The song is slow and melodious, with a funny zing.

The Sax Maniacs add grace to Morris' album, and while "Around the Corner" stacks the accordions, "Five Movements" creates levels of the different saxophones: alto, tenor, soprano and baritone. Morris also features Vivian Quinn Sayles on the piano, and I'm already fond of her jazzy piano songs.

Morris definitely has themes to her album. "Sunny Side Up" and "Scrambled Eggs" seem to harken to the incredible, edible egg, with light-hearted and extremely optimistic songwriting. "Before the Storm" and "After the Storm" bring out in music the emotions of moody weather. (Considering that Morris is from the Bay Area, she just might be referring to the long-standing effects of El Niño and La Nina.)

All-in-all, Morris presents a good album that will delight instrumental fans new to her work, and will be a surprise to those already familiar with her previous recordings.

All About Jazz

Joel Roberts reviewed reeding between the lines for All About Jazz, an online magazine, in November 1999.

This is certainly one of the more interesting CDs to find its way into my mailbox in a while. Valarie Morris is a San Francisco Bay Area composer/multi-instrumentalist who writes in a wide assortment of styles for a wide variety of ensembles. There are pieces here for solo piano; piano and voice; accordion and marimba; five saxophones; and, yes, five accordions.

As you might have guessed, this is not, strictly speaking, a jazz recording. It's more of a musical stew drawing on such disparate ingredients as contemporary classical, European folk music, children's music, Kurt Weill, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Charles Mingus.

And the cooking metaphor is an apt one, since one of Morris' favorite topics is food; breakfast in particular. Two of her brief thematic sketches here ("Scrambled Eggs" and "Sunny Side Up") are about, well, eggs. Other more serious compositions are inspired by such topics as a walk in Paris, a visit to Amsterdam, a wedding and anniversary, and El Niño.

Morris gets big points for ambition and originality. Despite the unusual instrumentation and sometimes uneasy mixing of styles, this is very listenable, accessible music. There are some truly poignant moments here, as well as some rather disastrous ones. Perhaps it's my general distaste for musical theater, but I found myself skipping quickly past the handful of rather silly vocal numbers.

More successful is her work for saxophone ensembles, including a superb arrangement of the Mingus classic, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." She also uses the accordion to fine effect on a number of tunes, showcasing the much-maligned instrument's surprising emotional range.

The Spill Magazine

David Widmann reviewed this CD in the October 1999 issue of The Spill Magazine.

Mostly saxophone, with some piano, flute, and even some accordion thrown in for some extra flavour. The album is reminiscent of the soundtrack to one of those old movies that takes place on the streets and in the cafes of wartime Paris.

That's the most striking point about this album; its cinematic quality. Although not of particular interest as something to pop into the stereo for after-dinner listening, it lends itself well as a background to an imagined plot of romance and intrigue on the Champs Elysees.


Reviewer Rafa Dorado of the magazine "margen" from Lugo, Spain, wrote this about reeding between the lines. (See English translation below.)

Nunca antes el jazz y el folk habian dialogado de forma tan natural. Este album recopila muchas de las corrientes y subgeneros del jazz y el folk desde ritmos afrocubanos hasta tendencias tradicionales europeas y desde el swing a la improvisacion.

Con un plantel de colaboradores envidiable (saxos, acordeones, contrabajo, piano, voz ... ), Valarie Morris realiza un disco cosmopolita y pasional, que, cuando crees que se ha refugiado en el conformismo, se adentra subitamente en lo desconocido. Como la vida, la musica de Morris es impredecible, te estimulara a ratos o simplemente te dejara perplejo.

English translation:

Never before has jazz and popular music communicated so naturally. This album is a compilation of the streams and subgenres of jazz and popular musics from Afro-Cuban rhythms to traditional European tendencies, and even swing and improvisation.

With an enviable ensemble (saxes, accordions, bassses, piano, voice ...), Valarie Morris creates a cosmopolitan and passionate album that, when you think it has taken refuge in conformism, it suddenly enters the unknown. Like life, Morris' music is unpredictable, sometimes it will stimulate you and sometimes it will simply leave you perplexed.

The 1/2 Creeper

Paul Autry had this to say about reeding between the lines in the July 21, 1999 issue of The 1/2 Creeper, an online zine.

I'm not a huge fan of instrumental music because most of it is just a way for people to show off how well they play. But, multi-instrumentalist Valarie Morris is different. She creates music that's as pure as you can get. It's like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! I know some of you will be surprised that I enjoy the music of Valarie Morris. But, if you listen to it with an open mind, you'll understand my attraction to it!

Splendid E-Zine

Andrew Magilow reviewed reeding between the lines in the August 9, 1999 issue of this online e-zine, Splendid E-Zine.

A convincing romp through a variety of jazz-inspired compositions, reeding between the lines applies accordions, saxophones, inflected vocals and marimbas to traditional jazz settings, with flavorful results. Morris' accordion playing has a familiar Astor Piazolla ring to it, and the horn accompaniment by the Sax Maniacs rings in a big band sound.

Ink Nineteen

Marcus Leith's review appears in the July 1999 issue of the online and paper magazine, Ink Nineteen.

Valarie Morris is a semi-experimental composer of jazz-inflected chamber music. What helps set her apart from other such composers is her interest in the textural uniqueness of layered accordions. More than half of the instrumental pieces included here feature at least a single accordion player or a whole quartet of accordion players.

The rest of her instrumental compositions are dominated by the Sax Maniacs saxophone quintet and recall some of the more straightforward work done by the Rova Saxophone Quartet. The four vocal numbers featured on reeding between the lines display a musical and lyrical playfulness, but at the same time, sound a bit too academic.

Morris was a student of the extremely avant garde jazz composer Anthony Braxton, but her approach to composition is much more accessible than her former teacher's. Highlights include the intricate sax quintet piece "Five Movements," the dynamic, accordion-dominiated "After the Storm," and the excellent sax quintet arrangement of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."


9muses is a meta-zine of new music media. Joe Kolk reviewed reeding between the lines in the March 19, 1999 issue.

When I listen to jazz on my local NPR affiliate, I hear stuff that to me sounds very pretentious, and that's just the DJ. To me, it all sounds so serious and stern, like all the fun has been drained out of it. Not so with Valarie Morris' third release, reeding between the lines. Even from the album's title you can tell that this is going to be something that is a lot of fun.

Starting off the album is "Around The Corner" in which an ensemble of accordians and saxophones takes you on a whirlwind trip that covers a variety of musical styles. "A Minor Incident" takes us to the set of a French movie before moving in a totally different direction down "Bilderdijk Straat" with its wandering piano and moving vocals.

This is one of the things that keeps this album moving: diversity. A saxophone ensemble may be followed by a tribute to eggs, with a short opera about a French street, before an interpretation of the devastation of El Niño.

The music also keeps the listener guessing and highly entertained. Whether it's the Sax Maniacs, Vivian Quinn Sayles on piano, or Chicago vinyl god Steve Albini playing accordion, Valarie Morris has arranged an eclectic mix that is sure to suit anyone and everyone. And there is not a pretentious note in sight.


PreAmp is an online magazine of music reviews and news. Here's Jeff Cooper's review of reeding between the lines.

Valarie Morris is a composer who defies easy categorization. Fans of her two previous albums may be surprised by the conspicuous absence of synthesizers and other electronic instrumentation on this delightfully eclectic collection of Morris's acoustic compositions. Morris began studying the accordion at age five, and it is that often-maligned instrument seldom heard outside the context of polka parties and bar mitzvah receptions that dominates this album.

The CD opens with the cheerful "Around the Corner," a feel-good tune infused with a relentless spirit of goofy optimism. While the remarkable Ron Borelli effectively demonstrates the potential of the accordion as a lead jazz instrument, Morris herself joins the horn section on alto sax.

Borelli's accordion is featured again on the gently swinging "Past Eleven." He is joined by several more accordionists, including the composer, on the album's two closers, "Before the Storm" and "After the Storm," both of which successfully evoke the moods suggested by their titles.

The other stars of "reeding between the lines" are an all-saxophone quintet known as the Sax Maniacs. The group shines on "Five Movements," "Scrumptious," and Morris's arrangement of Mingus's classic "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." In each of these highly satisfying numbers, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxes blend to tell a wordless story that sounds as if it might be the soundtrack to some intriguing film unreeling in the listener's imagination.

While I was less than captivated by the four vocal tracks included on the album, three accompanied by solo piano and the fourth by solo accordion, I'm sure that many listeners would enjoy the intentional silliness of Morris's whimsical tributes to the humble egg in "Sunny Side Up" and "Scrambled Eggs."

Personally, the track I'm most likely to return to for repeated listening would be the album's only piano solo, "America's Legacy," a charming composition that would not have been out of place in some lost Gershwin musical of the early '30s.

In discussing her musical influences, Morris has cited the likes of Charles Mingus, Erik Satie, and Kurt Weill, and the influence of those three modern masters is amply reflected on this fine album.

Listeners who appreciate the opportunity to hear music unlike any other they are likely to have heard before will find most of the fourteen tracks on this CD—sometimes sparse, sometimes lush, and consistently surprising—to be a breath of musical fresh air.

Aiding and Abetting

A review of reeding between the lines, our third album, appeared in the March 29, 1999 issue of Aiding and Abetting. This online music resource is created by Jon Worley.

When the accordion hit, I wondered if I was remembering the same person. I looked it up. I was. So anyways. This time out, Morris sets a number of scenes, often jazzy and contemplative, using many players. Piano, sax and accordion are the preferred instruments.

And so, instead of using a synthesizer to crank out her compositions, Morris leads real folks. The result is more satisfying than TransFormations, if only for the earthy feel, something which may have been present on the other album, but which couldn't have been or wasn't quite expressed.

I still can't get over the difference. I liked her earlier album an awful lot, but this is just so much more appealing to my ear. Just more playful, more endearing. Maybe I'm just a sucker.

Maybe. But what can't be missed is what I'm hearing. Top-notch compositions and playing. Effervescent bits of joy and goofiness. A candlelit dinner in Paris. And who knows what else. Another album to explore and enjoy.

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