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Trevor Watts

World Sonic

by Ian Mann

July 25, 2006


A niche within a niche for hardcore avant-garde and free improv fans.

Alto saxophonist Trevor Watts has been a professional musician for over forty years mainly operating in musical areas that may be described as avant-garde or free improvisation. He started off in the sixties with the New Jazz Orchestra and was later a founder member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Subsequently he led his own group Amalgam and in the eighties formed Moire Music which added elements of African/World Music to his repertoire. In fact he largely pre-empted the “World Music” phenomenon. Of late he has been working in a duo with percussionist Jamie Harris and also leads his own Celebration Band. Watts has of course worked with many other musicians and the projects mentioned above are only a few of the landmarks in a long and distinguished career.

“World Sonic” is his first totally solo album. It is recorded entirely solo on alto saxophone in real time with no studio effects, trickery or overdubbing. On anybody’s terms it is a technical tour de force. Watts must use every single square inch of his instrument. The opening track “Solarsonic” is a quite dazzling display of circular breathing and overblowing and is not without melody. However there are eighteen tracks in all and without the variety and colours that other instruments can bring listening can soon get to feel like hard work, despite the fact that Watts keeps each track brief and actually manages to add quite a lot of variety to his sound given the restrictions of his chosen format.

I found that “World Sonic” is one of those records I admire rather than enjoy. I can appreciate Watts’ musicianship and resourcefulness and admire his integrity and uncompromising stance. That said I wouldn’t want to listen to this album again. It is very challenging and a recording that makes no concessions to the listener. The solo format doesn’t work for me as I need a wider instrumental palette and prefer to hear the interaction between the musicians. Impressive as it is “World Sonic” is just too claustrophobic and intense.

It is often said by the record company bean counters that jazz is a niche market, a sentiment I don’t necessarily agree with. There’s some great music out there. It’s just a question of bringing it to people’s attention.

“World Sonic” is a niche within a niche. In all honesty this is not a record I could recommend to the average jazz listener - let alone somebody with no knowledge of the genre. To illustrate the point I saw Watts and percussionist Jamie Harris play as a duo on the Stroller programme at Brecon in 2004. The intensity was too much for the majority of the listeners and most of them moved on in search of something they found more accessible. I watched for a while, was impressed on a technical level but eventually moved on myself. I felt some sympathy for Watts and admiration too for a man who takes risks, asks no favours and makes music HIS way.

However, “World Sonic” is likely to appeal to other musicians who wish to study Watts’ phenomenal technique and will also be enjoyed by hardcore avant-garde and free improv fans. It’s just that it’s too overpowering for the rest of us.

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