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Amalgam: Innovation

Rex  Butters By

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In the early '60s Trevor Watts and John Stevens initiated the long-lived free jazz association that became known as Amalgam. Their extended tenure altered Euro jazz and improvised music forever, following their first recording in '69. Tangent records released their third album, Innovation , in 1974, after their Play Blackwell and Higgins set and several sessions recorded with trumpeter Bobby Bradford. Weirdly saddled with a "jazz rock" reputation with the addition of guitarist Keith Rowe after these sessions, the Innovation version of Amalgam plays surprisingly straight-ahead for these iconoclasts. The lineup includes Kent Carter and Lindsay Cooper on bass, Keith Tippett on piano, and Terri Quaye on congas.

On "Staggering," Watts opens with his plaintive alto, playing freely with the ensemble that unexpectedly coalesces around Quaye's congas. Watts keeps it out as Tippett joins the loping rhythm section, occasionally tweaking the melody with unusual chords. His solo shatters and reassembles the Caribbean mood, then Watts returns to dance with fire around the edges. Watts adds a little Ayler spice to "When Is Now," another idiosyncratic groove. He soon goes his joyous way, with one bassist staying with the rhythm and the other bowing and scraping for effect. Watts floods the track with ideas and variations, while the band emphasizes heat.

The heavy funk continues with "Hello," Watts sweeping through the churning rhythm section. Tippett tiptoes through the high treble end of the keyboard, then chords downward, finding Watts ready to grab the baton and run. Cooper and Carter face off and pluck to open "Suzie Jay," Watts' only composition of the set. The ballad that emerges shows the saxophonist's lyrical side, with understated accompaniment and a solo by Tippett. As Stevens slides the brushes, Watts plays with a beautiful tone and creates immediately accessible melodies and variations.

Fading in with a mission, "Austrian Roll" returns to the beat heavy momentum, with both Tippett and Watts tickling the edges, rooted to the earthy rhythm. As on "Hello," Tippett locks into a treble-end pattern that fades with Watts soulful over the top.

Watts' Afro-Carribean influences would find further expression in the Moire Music Drum Orchestra and Enjambre Acustico Urukongolo. But this thirty year-old session manages to sound fresh and ecstatic, providing an easy introduction to the sounds of these European masters.


Track Listing: Staggering; When is Now; Hello; Suzie Jay; Austrian Roll.

Personnel: Trevor Watts, alto saxophone; John Stevens, drums; Kent Carter, bass; Lindsay Cooper, bass; Keith Tippett, piano; Terri Quaye, congas.

Title: Innovation | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: FMR Records

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