Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Morton Fork & his Gang.

I arrived in Belgium at the end of 1988, a great period for jazz in Brussels and music in general. There was so much happening and so many places to play, unlike today. I can't list all of the places that presented music but I remember that each type of music had a page to itself in the local newspaper 'Le Soir' (MAD), and most cafés still stayed open until two or three in the morning ...... that's just how it was. I'd come to Belgium to visit family but very quickly started playing in local bands and jamming with all the great musicians here, and the Brussels Conservatory decided to open it's doors to jazz  starting a jazz section which would (much) later become a degree course in the years 2000. A friend of mine told me about another English sax player Geoff Leigh who had played in a group called Henry Cow, and who was living in his street. A few weeks later I was introduced to Geoff whilst playing a festival in Brussels and we immediately became good friends, chatting away about jazz and music in general, and spending hours laughing about Belgium and it's peculiarities. Anyhow, I mentioned to Geoff an idea I had about making a 'mobile group' of three or four horn players + a drummer. Geoff was immediately taken with the idea and we picked a few people and started rehearsing.  

The First Line Ups.
At the beginning we chose a few people we thought would fit the groups mood and we ended up as a  quintet, although this line up only lasted two or three rehearsals :

Geoff - tenor sax & flute. Pierre Six - Tenor Sax. Claude Janssens - Trombone. Pierre Narcisse - drums, and myself (Joe Higham) Soprano sax

Right from the very beginning Geoff wondered if we should really bring in a bass into the music and  suggested I meet a friend of his called Guy Segers, who he knew through the Rock In Opposition movement. Guy plays bass and had played with many people over the years and especially Univers Zero, a Belgian band that toured the world playing a very heavy type of chamber rock. So Guy came along to a rehearsal and of course we then became a sextet ...... four horns, bass and drums ..... but we still needed more, yes more. Of course as a band develops, especially if you enjoy checking out peoples suggestions, it's interesting to add extra players who in the beginning are friends of friends, almost. And so the group developed very quickly into a first incarnation of 7 musicians :

Myself - soprano sax,  Geoff - tenor sax/flute, Daniel Stokart - alto sax, Claude Janssens - trombone, Mark Bogaerts - baritone & alto sax + guitar, Guy Segers - bass, Pierre Narcisse - drums.  

The Name.
The name came from various brainstorming sessions, with probably many suggestions, however Geoff came across this expression one day whilst browsing a book (or encyclopaedia) and thought that it perfectly fitted the group. I must say I somehow thought it was a bit clumsy but liked the idea behind it, and although The Morton Fork Gang was the official name we often referred to the band as just (The) Morton Fork. 

Here's what Wiki says on the subject, which looks fairly correct - Morton's Fork : Wikipedia 

The Next Episode.
We played a few concerts with this group, and I must say that the music - as I remember it - was rough, but at the same time very exciting and crossed many borders between jazz, rock and free jazz. I still have a cassette of the first concert which I should digitalise and put up on this blog-post (one of these days). However, the trombone player Claude felt a little out of his depth in this music, and also had a day job which required more attention. This meant that we had to find another trombone player which in Belgium (at the time) wasn't so easy. So, we opted for the friends system again and ended up with a cello player, Jan Kuijken. Jan was busy playing an electric cello and so could make sounds from Hendrix to Bach, which of course suited us fine!

On the photo 
L to R standing : Geoff - tenor sax/flute, Pierre Narcisse - drums, Guy Segers - bass, Daniel Stokart - alto sax.
Sitting : Jan Kuijken - cello, Mark Bogaerts - baritone & alto sax + guitar, Myself - soprano sax.

The boys in action @ Travers Jazz Club (1990)
The Final Version.
Oddly enough we - at least I do - still have loads of taped recordings of concerts with the (above) line up, but somehow we didn't get round to recording anything properly at that time, and it's unfortunate that there aren't more photos, but that of course was a period before digital cameras were on the go. However the final version of the group, which played the most concerts, was recorded properly although it was never released. We recorded 2 nights at the Botanique in Brussels which amounted to 30 odd tunes recorded - some tunes two or three times of course. By this stage the group had changed it's drummer and had Daniel Denis (the drummer of Univers Zero) and this gave the group a much heavier sound as Daniel was able to play in many styles and always went for precision in terms of his playing.

I thought to post two tunes from these recording just for the fun of hearing the music many years later. It's interesting to hear how strong and original the band was for that time. I suppose you could draw comparisons between the Lounge Lizards and Morton Fork as it has some of the same directions and never lacked humour.

The two pieces here are with the line up as follows :

Myself - soprano sax,  Geoff - tenor sax/flute, Daniel Stokart - alto sax, Mark Bogaerts - baritone & alto sax + guitar, Jan Kuijken - cello, Guy Segers - bass, Daniel Denis - drums.    

I picked the tunes posted here really by chance. As I mentioned there are 33 tunes/takes to choose from, but I finally went for a standard from Horace Silver - Senor Blues, that I arranged for the band - I also arranged Chippie from Ornette Coleman, and believe it or not Come Sunday from Duke Ellington which worked well with the band, however the rest of the repertoire was original. Kilometers was basically a piece by Geoff which he brought into a rehearsal one day. I can't remember if he thought there was something missing (or maybe was incomplete), but I ended up tagging this idea which I already had - but nowhere to use - onto the theme (starts at 1:14), and hey presto Kilometers was up and running! 

Kilometers (G.Leigh/J.Higham) 
Solos - Geoff and Mark.

Senor Blues (Horace Silver) - arr J.Higham
Solos - Jan and Daniel Stokart.

I should also add that none of this music is mixed and originally we'd thought to do some over dubbing, but this never happened. It seemed that we were almost starting to get somewhere with the music when disaster struck. Geoff became very ill and had to go back to the UK, Daniel Stokart had kidney problems and ended up having regular dialysis (stopping him from travelling with the band), Jan had an illness of the inner ear and could no longer be subjected to noise for several months. We had several offers for big festivals which of course we naturally had to turn down, and so the band just went into demise. Anyhow it's interesting to listen to the music and wonder what could of happened with such an interesting line up, but that's for another life time!

I hope you enjoy the music and in the meanwhile I'm off to look for the cassettes of earlier Morton concerts on the off chance there's a few more bits I can add onto this post.


  1. nice to come across these things by accident!
    keep it up brother...

  2. Hi Geoff

    Nice to see that someone reads my little rants from time to time!

    See you soon - Joe


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