Thursday, February 2, 2017

Marzette Watts - 1968 - Marzette And Company

Marzette Watts
Marzette And Company

01. Backdrop For Urban Revolution 19:18
02. Ia 10:10
03. Geno 7:34

Alto Saxophone – Byard Lancaster (tracks: B1, B2)
Bass – Henry Grimes, Juney Booth (tracks: A)
Bass Clarinet – Byard Lancaster (tracks: A), Marzette Watts (tracks: A)
Cornet – Clifford Thornton (tracks: A)
Drums – J.C. Moses
Flute – Byard Lancaster (tracks: B1)
Guitar – Sonny Sharrock
Soprano Saxophone – Marzette Watts (tracks: B2)
Tenor Saxophone – Marzette Watts (tracks: B1)
Trombone – Clifford Thornton (tracks: B1, B2)
Vibraphone [Vibes] – Karl Berger

Recorded December, 1966.

ESP-Disk was a NYC-based independent label that in its short existence (1964-1974) released platters few if any of the major labels would consider touching: readings by Timothy Leary and William S. Burroughs, avant-garde jazz by Albert Ayler, Marion Brown, and Pharaoh Sanders [his debut!], underground rock by the Fugs, Godz, and Pearls Before Swine, and more. In `05 the label was revived by founder Bernard Stollman and old and new product hit the shelves.

Multi-reeds player Marzette Watts (1938-1998) was never close to the big time and is barely known outside of free jazz circles--but he made powerful music that stands the test of time. "Company" is not an "easy" listen, even by my copiously warped standards. "Company" is a fiery blow-out, a free-form blitz guaranteed to induce seizures in Tea Partiers and Kenny G fans. Melody and harmony are for the most part beside-the-point but the whip-smart playing of drummer J.C. Moses, who had an extensive background in more straight-ahead jazz, is the cosmic glue holding this session together. Also, vibes player Karl Berger has some luminously lyrical passages. A major reason to celebrate this disc's return to the marketplace is the sublimely raucous guitar of Sonny Sharrock, perhaps the first player to apply Coltrane/Ayler levels of "free" to electric six-strings. "Company" is an uncompromising trip full of haunting, anguished's a little dated and the nonstop ragged fury can get a little numbing (as I said: depending on yr mood), but it's still compelling and frequently cathartic. Not a disc for the free jazz neophyte but for the devotees of free jazz (especially of the mid-1960s): Essential.

Like many an album on the ESP label, this one takes work to enjoy. Also like many an album on the ESP label, it's the drummer who saves things and brings order to what would otherwise be a chaotic mess. The avant-garde jazz scene was ruled by percussionists. In a music whose whole thing was freedom, it was left to the drummer to drive things along, to provide direction while the soloists tried to put themselves across, an act that took enormous concentration. J.C. Moses cracks the whip here, proving throbbing backgrounds and spare, pneumatic fills to emphatically state what the music only implies. When things get too far afield, it's Moses who lays down a sharp beat to get the band back on track. Soloists include the ubiquitous Clifford Thornton on trombone, the workman-like presence of Karl Berger on vibes, and the leader on a variety of instruments. This is a powerful artistic statement by a man one wishes had recorded more often. Unfortunately, like his labelmate, Guiseppi Logan, it seems Watts will exist more as a reputation than a musician. Those into the time and place (i.e., New York in the mid-'60s) can't get enough of this stuff and are sure to enjoy this too. For others with open ears, this is a peek into a chapter of American music that is still criminally underappreciated.

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