Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Cynosure - Trevor Watts String Ensemble - review by Daniel Spicer in The Wire June 2016 issue

Many thanks to Daniel Spicer for this review:
'To anyone who knew Trevor Watts principally as a pioneer of free improvisation and co-founder, in 1965, of The Spontaneous Music Ensemble, the saxophonist's Moire Music Ensemble must have seemed like a radical stylistic leap when it first blazed forth in 1982 as a horn-heavy tentet combining dense improvisation with African rhythms and minimalist compositional strategies. Yet, for more than a decade, he'd already been demonstrating that he was free enough to break out of the non-idiomatic idiom, through his lesser known unit, Amalgam.
That trio's 1969 debut Prayer for Peace roved from sparse, Ayler-esque lament to hard-swinging be-bop powered by drummer John Stevens and bassist Jeff Clyne. By the end of the 1970s, Amalgam had moved into muscular but loosely rolling jazz rock, pushed on by the relentless energy of drummer Liam Genockey and electric bassist Colin McKenzie (both of whom went on to form the rhythmic backbone of Moire Music).
These recordings from 1976, the only existing evidence of Watts' short-lived String Ensemble, are a further link in the chain. With the core of Watts, Genockey and McKenzie augmented by violin, cello, double bass and two electric guitars, Moire Music's driving rhythmic imperative is already in full effect, providing a canvas for sprawling yet intricate group improvisation. 'Another Time' kicks off with a thumping highlife backbeat before spiralling into slippery, harmolodic free funk prefiguring Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society, with spidery twin guitars weaving around Watts' bobbing alto. 'No Waiting' piles up disconnected melodic fragments, sloppily coalescing into a stilted polyrhythmic framework over which Watts blurts soaring bursts and leaps on soprano. And 'Chip' is a furiously racing fusion jam with Steve Donachie's violin achieving Mahavishnoid levels of intensity.
Released on the Ogun label in 1978, this session's relative obscurity owes much to its rough and raw sound quality. The original tracks are from rehearsals, held in a London squat and captured by Watts on cassette tape, with three slightly better quality, previously unissued live performances included here. Watts evidently felt the music was vital enough to deserve documentation by whatever rudimentary means were available to him at the time. He was damn right, too.

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