This is deeply satisfying music.
Jazz In Britain JIB 46 S CD (Only 500 copies available worldwide)
Trevor Watts (leader, alto and soprano saxophone); Peter Knight (violin); Ernest Mothle (bass); NanaTsiboe (African percussion, mbira, didgeridoo, voice); Kofi Adu (African percussion); Liam Genockey (drums)
Recorded before an audience at the Four Bars Inn, Cardiff and Southampton Musicians’ Collective during a 1989 tour. The music was improvised without any previous discussion.
CD dedicated to Enest Mothle and Nana Tsiboe
The Drum Orchestra started in the 1980s. Trevor Watts developed two groups in 1980 heavily influenced by African music and included African musicians. One focused on improvising. Watts says ‘I never tried to play like an African saxophonist. It was the rhythmic thrust I was after.’
Watts interviewed recently says: ‘If you think about Indian classical music, they usually start slow and build. It’s quite a natural thing to do in music that is not there for entertainment as being the first thing, but trying for a more profound experience. Eventually something else takes over. A collective consciousness. With improv, we aim to get in touch very much with our intuitive side of things and be as much ‘in the moment’ as you can.’ The current album shows all that clearly.
Trevor Watts has always had faith in improvisation in a pure sense. ‘Well, in the early days we did actually develop very strict rules to a certain extent. One of the rules was, you don’t play linear. Dots and dashes. Pointillistic music. Absolutely no tunes! It was useful at the time to play within those self-restricting boundaries. I always think freedom comes from a sense of discipline, so to speak, or how else would you recognise it? Watts can sometimes be seen as a scoundrel patrolling outside the wire fence that demarcates jazz boundaries yelling questions at those inside about the codes, the commandments and the comfortable myths.
‘Basically’, he says,’ it’s a letting go of any preconceived ideas about what you are going to play, but to launch into it more with your ears in play than your head. You can trust in that. I guess it’s guided by the one who is most bursting to play or say something at that point. Once a sound is there, then there’s something to respond to.’
Watts said that he wanted to play with more traditionally orientated African players rather than any of them that were into jazz. His reasoning being that there would be the chance of a cleaner slate to start with.
The dream of jazz played over African or Cuban rhythms animated the work of Charlie Parker with Machito and Dizzy Gillespie with Chan Pozo, even Stan Kenton. Not following in their footsteps, Trevor Watts produced in the 1980s music that is untethered, drawing on a wide range of elements from England, Ireland, Ghana, South Africa, from the near east, the far east. All animated with African polyrhythms and traditional folk music out of the breadth of Watts’ experience from across the world.
Watts is very much his own man, going his own way being associated with Amalgam, Moiré Music, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. One of the incidental pleasures of jazz improvised in this way is listening to the musicians’ listening. It is easy to get lost if the listening on both sides is not forensic. When it all works, it is deeply satisfying music.
Watts dominates both the Cardiff and Southampton sessions. His soprano has that cutting Bechet edge that tears through the ensemble taking inspiration from the complex rhythms evoking sounds from communities across the world. On alto the way that Watts can vary the sound from gentle to strident is impressive.
Peter Knight on violin has always resented being fitted up into any category and his music with Trevor has given him the freedom to fly free. He has worked with Steeleye Span but with Watts he is a living embodiment of ‘the sound of surprise’ as he sneaks across the well-guarded boundaries of music because he has a musical passport that enables him to enter each realm, moving seamlessly from the classical academy to folk to Jazz.
The aural complexity of the group makes it seem larger than six players. The intertwining of violin and saxophone, the multiplicity of the rhythms intrigues as Watts on soprano creates a world music vibe out of the sounds he has absorbed in his travels. Genockey creates a steady pulse that is complementary to the rhythms created by Tsiboe and Adu. The cross-rhythm layering creates a stimulus for the clashing interplay of violin and soprano as they drive each other on.
Ernest Mothle on bass worked with Hugh Masekela and the Brotherhood of Breath, his bass occasionally imposes itself giving added depth to the group sound and sometimes develops a more traditional swing role underpinning the melodies of the rest of the group.
Often Peter Knight moves forward and sounds like an avant garde Grappelli conjuring more music than Stephane ever did. The duets with Watts throughout the two sessions are a mixture of urgent phrases underpinned by the intensity of the percussion. There are hints of eastern European wildness, bartokian cadences, Scottish reels and crazy Celtic jigs.
It is interesting to compare the music from the two venues. There is more space for individual voices on the Southampton session, slightly less of a community feel. The intensity of the music at the end of the Cardiff session is impressive. It is more urgent, more intense. The encore is fast and furious with Tsiboe’s voice and gypsy- like rhythm from the violin. The music morphs into a wild fugue underpinned by the fierce percussion with Mothle’s bass adding to dense incantations before tapering away to almost silence. The crowd cheered and sounded very appreciative. This group must have looked just as impressive as they sounded.
Jazz in Britain has lifted these sessions from the past into the present and consequently into the future.