Monday, February 27, 2017

Amalgam - 1973 - Play Blackwell & Higgins

Play Blackwell & Higgins

01. Blackwell 21:30
02. Higgins 26:30

Bass – Jeff Clyne
Drums – John Stevens
Saxophone – Trevor Watts

Blackwell: Live at Birmingham Arts Lab. 23.3.72.
Higgins: Live at Phoenix, London. 24.1.73

2nd album by the superb British Jazz / Improvised Music ensemble Amalgam, one of the precursors of British / European Free Jazz scene in the late 1960s and 1970s, founded by saxophonist Trevor Watts. On this album the lineup is a trio, including the legendary drummer John Stevens and bassists Ron Herman and Jeff Clyne. As the title suggests, Amalgam play tribute to two almost anonymous heroes of the American Jazz revolution, drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, both of which played on the pioneering recordings by Ornette Coleman and contributed their share in expanding the Jazz horizons. The music is recorded live and both extended compositions included here are by Stevens. This album was originally released on the tiny independent A label, owned by Watts, and was unavailable for many years, which is now rectified by this CD issue. The performances are inspired and fiery, proving how advanced the British scene was at the time. Watts' saxophone work summarizes the development of the instrument in the hand of geniuses like Coleman, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane. Overall this is yet another example of the wonderful forces at work during a most illustrious period in British Jazz. A true classic of the genre and a must for any Free Jazz / Improvised Music buff!

Continuing with the Amalgam/Jeff Clyne-oriented posts, this was recorded after the "Prayer for Peace" we posted here before. After this recording, Amalgam was to head off in a more explicit fusion direction with a change in personnel with John Stevens vacating the drum chair and Jeff Clyne leaving the bass to others. Interestingly, Clyne became a member of Nucleus and in the mid-70s started his own fusion project under the name of Turning Point. Stevens himself started the band Away, but we'll get to all of that in due course.

Meanwhile, here they are all in tribute mode - to the drummers of the early Ornette Coleman combos and to Coleman himself, of course. In the liner notes, Watts credits the natural melody and the pure rhythm approach of Coleman and the influence both drummers had on the evolution of Stevens. This is not tribute by way of emulation, but by feel - by playing what's right in the given context. Only two tracks here, both recorded live with Stevens down in the steam room, the bassists plying lightly in the background and Watts up front with short bursts of melodic rhythm. Perhaps that is a key characteristic of Watts - the sense of rhythm - strongly explored in later years with his various percussive combos under the moniker of Moire music. Still active, I'm happy to say and just recorded for the Berlin-based Jazz Werkstatt label. Amalgam was a vehicle for the development of the more convential side of the duo's playing; the Spontaneous Music Ensemble another vehicle for going beyond the conventions. And Stevens is a thrill here - his stamina is just amazing!

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