Friday, 12 October 2007

Trevor Watts with Amalgam...

Another slice of British jazz from the 70s, this time with proggy leanings that may even be dated enough to turn Rick Wakeman's finely tuned ears...

FMR (CD 125-LO503)

Samanna; Maas; Unity; Berlin Wall.

Trevor Watts (as); Dave Cole (g); Colin McKenzie, Pete Cowling (b); Liam Genockey (d).
Recorded January 1977.

My first impression of this reissue was just how far the influence of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time, a band I have particular fondness for, could be felt. That impression largely derives from the towering presence of Watts’ bittersweet alto, placed against a similar instrumental configuration, and the harmolodic webs which form part of the lengthy opener are certainly are conscious part of the group’s musical horizons. As the disc unravels however, greater space and a broader range of references place the set firmly in the mainstream of 70s European fusion. Just as informed by Ray Russell or Soft Machine, the members of ‘Amalgam’ leave their individual, and sometimes dated, stamp on the work.

For this 1977 date Watts’ basic trio had been expanded to include two former members, Cole and Cowling. The lengthy opener ‘Samanna’ is a five-part suite providing interesting rotating backdrops for Watts’ explorations. Cole’s rather dated guitar tone is glaringly at odds with the roughly contemporary but strangely timeless Prime Time discs like ‘Dancing In Your Head’ or ‘Body Meta’. Watts’ own processed alto saxophone on the closing ‘Berlin Wall’ also draws attention to the music’s sell-by date, but nevertheless it all represents an exploratory facet of Watts’ work that is far more appealing than some of his recent excursions into bland world-jazz territory. The twin-bass feature ‘Maas’ is a pleasant slice of 70s fusion, whilst ‘Unity’ is a typically relaxed and introspective piece of Eurojazz.

I suspect that ultimately this this reissue will appeal more to those who owned and wore out the original vinyl than newer listeners with a curiosity for the sounds of the 70s. It’s not that the music is poor, it just hasn’t aged as gracefully as it might. Trevor Taylor’s FMR operation has once again provided some valuable archiving of neglected British jazz, just as it did with the Mike Osborne reissues, and I know that many will be happy to see that work continue.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, February 2004)

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