~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Debunking the notion that everyone comes to New York if nowhere else, reedman Trevor Watts made his first ever appearance in New York (June 5) in a career that began in the '60s. The not-so-sparse as usual crowd at CB's Lounge were treated not to the insect music Watts created with John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble, but a duo exploration of the African rhythmic tradition, as done by alto and soprano saxophone (Watts) and congas, djembe and darbouka (Jamie Harris). This was no Interstellar Space; rather this was tribal dance music (one woman did even get up and boogie) with swirling celebratory melodies. There were five pieces penned by Watts ("Three and more, "'L' Heaven, "Sopata, "Multiki and "Ancestry ), all firmly based in a primal theme-and-variations mode. When on alto, the music tended more towards jazz; soprano heralded a more ethnic bent. The one constant was Watts' earthy approach to the saxophone, more communicative than intellectual. Another accomplished British circular breather, Watts used the difficult technique organically instead of as a disconnected exercise, extending melodic lines within pieces and then switching back to long tones. The tunes were relatively short but felt satisfyingly complete; the closing "Ancestry was the longest, energizing the crowd with Harris' chanting and several false endings.
There is a hackneyed old phrase: "music in search of a movie. Some enterprising moviemaker should turn this around and create a movie based on the intricate twists of the music of Abaton. Playing in a sweltering Stone (June 9), the trio - Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Mark Feldman (violin) and Erik Friedlander (cello) - played the music from their sole release (ECM, 2004). That album was two discs, one fully composed, the other completely improvised. The material for the performance was the composed side, four pieces done in the order found on the album. Though the musicians are steeped in the downtown tradition, Abaton resides more in the classical vein and the pieces each are chamber works, with nods to the adagios, allegros and scherzos one might find in symphonies. Courvoisier composed all the music, leaving ample room for stirring improvisation within the sometimes densely written sections. She also displayed the generosity of a composer by letting her cohorts lead much of the melodic proceedings while she provided harmonic (or dissonant or even cinematic) underpinning. The improvised sections acted as interludes between the composed sections and were dominated at different times by different members of the trio. The closing "Abaton was full of galloping unison themes with a full palette of tonal ranges. Somewhere a Hollywood car chase needs this group.
~ Andrey Henkin