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Heath Watts: Bright Yellow with Bass

John Sharpe By

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Musicians gravitate towards the sprawling conurbations like New York and Chicago because of the potential for exposure, the pool of talented collaborators and the sheer pull of tradition. But if ever proof were needed that excellent music thrives outside of the these febrile centers, then it can be found on Bright Yellow With Bass. Soprano saxophonist Heath Watts now resides in Philadelphia, and his last issued record dates back to Breathe If You Can (Leo, 2008), so clearly he doesn't put himself forward unless he has something to say. And he has lots to say on the ten off-the-map navigations from this 2013 session recorded in Montana with Butte-based bassist Blue Armstrong.

Drawn to the extremes, Watts proves a wonderfully original voice on his reed of choice. While he evokes the great Steve Lacy in the bounce of his lines when he sticks to conventional tonality, that's only the starting point on a journey that takes in all manner of liquid bubbling, cat-like mewling, false fingered bleats and multiphonic whistles. You can almost hear him straining to come up with something fresh on each cut. In fact as he recounts in an interview on fellow straight horn specialist Sam Newsome's blog, he actually achieved it by creating a series of very low pitches on "Non-Standard Issue" which he has never managed either before or since.

Armstrong supplies a marvelously supple foil, his elastic pizzicato furnishing a grounding presence to Watts' excursions. While he remains recognizably a rhythm player, he is nonetheless empathetic and probing when required, supplying freely extemporized counterpoint and mixing it up with audacious arco. His leaps between bowing and plucking are unexpected and inspire Watts to move into other areas. One such serendipitous switch occurs after flirting with consonance in "Assists" when Armstrong's shift to scribbling sawing prompts a similarly swift response of burbling soprano, presaging some electrifying blending of bowed harmonics and split tone cries.

But in spite of the unpolished experimentation, the duets stay thoroughly musical, begging the question of when the next installment might be due.

Track Listing: Adhocery; The Other and the Same; Assits; From One Extreme to Unspecified; Every Other One Is Every Bit Other; On the Outside from Within; Moment of Asking; Inverted Commas; Non- Standard Issue; Doubly Singular.

Personnel: Heath Watts: soprano saxophone; Blue Armstrong: double bass.

Title: Bright Yellow with Bass | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Leo Records


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