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Here's a three-disc set of performances by Amalgam, saxophonist Trevor Watts' legendary jazz-funk free improv group from the '70s. These nine tracks were recorded on a late 1979 tour and originally released in 1980 in a four-LP box on Impetus. At that time, they had to be cut up, due to the LP's time constraints, but here they are presented intact.
One minor quibble first: the sound is boxy and stunted, maybe a result of a transfer from vinyl. However, even sonic shortcomings don't take away from the sense of joy and raw power that pervades these structures. Wild free blowing alternates with passages of compositional beauty, some of the most intense moments occurring in quieter passages.
"Roller Coaster" will serve as a microcosm of the set. The hard-driving funk of bassist Colin McKenzie whips the track into shape, Watts' harsh but sweetly expansive reed playing providing fitting contrast as he presents a melodic figure that returns throughout. The track then moves through various time and dynamic shifts, bits of meterlessness and composition rearing up amidst the tight rhythmic scree.
The set's most unexpected element is guitarist Keith Rowe's fusion work. He shreds, bends and power-chords his way through each situation with ease and dexterity. This is fairly close to the 1979 AMM material on ECM but even more raucous, a real surprise for those who thought Rowe was about texture and subtlety.
Tracks range from very brief to epic in scope, but most fade in, as if they'd been in progress for some time. The set affords a slightly faded but still vivid portrait of this important band in full flower, captured live in front of small but enthusiastic audiences. It's about time this document saw reissue and it would serve as a fine introduction to Amalgam's fascinating sound world.
Track Listing: Wipe out; Roller coaster pt. 1; Roller coaster pts. 2 & 3; Ongoing situation pt. 1; Ongoing situation pt. 2; Children; Tribute to Mingus pts. 1 & 2; Tribute to Mingus pt. 3; The golden salamander; War dance; Monk's house; Homecoming.
Personnel: Trevor Watts: alto and soprano saxophones; Keith Rowe: guitars; Liam Genockey: drums; Colin McKenzie: bass (1-3, 7-9); George Lyle: bass (12).
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.