Monday, February 27, 2017

Sam Rivers - 1974 - Crystals

Sam Rivers 

01. Exultation 8:26
02. Tranquility 8:59
03. Postlude 2:32
04. Bursts 6:53
05. Orb 9:37
06. Earth Song 4:07

Recorded at Generation Sound Studios, New York, New York on March 4, 1974.

Sam Rivers (arranger, conductor, soprano & tenor saxophones);
Fred Kelly (soprano, alto & baritone saxophones, flute, piccolo);
Joe Ferguson (soprano & alto saxophones, flute);
Roland Alexander (soprano & tenor saxophones, flute, African flute);
Paul Jeffrey (tenor saxophone, flute, bassett horn);
Sinclair Acey, Ted Daniel, Richard Williams (trumpet, flugelhorn);
Charles Majeed Greenlee, Charles Stephens (trombone);
Joe Daley (euphonium, tuba);
Gregory Maker (bass);
Warren Smith (drums);
Harold Smith (percussion).

When Sam Rivers' Crystals was released in 1974, it had been over a decade since Ornette had worked with his Free Jazz Double Quartet, nine years since Coltrane assembled his Ascension band, and six since the first Jazz Composers' Orchestra Association was formed and whose first records were issued (a couple of members of that band also perform with Rivers here). It's difficult to note in the 21st century just how forward-thinking this avant-garde big band was, and how completely innovative Rivers' compositions are. The number of musicians on this session is staggering: With Rivers, it numbers 64 pieces! A few of the names appearing here are Hamiet Bluiett, Richard Davis, Bob Stewart, John Stubblefield, Bill Barron, Robin Kenyatta, Julius Watkins, Norman Connors, Andrew Cyrille, Billy Hart, Ahmed Abdullah, Charles Sullivan, Clifford Thornton, Grachan Moncur, Ronnie Boykins, and Reggie Workman -- and no pianist. Musically, this is the mature Sam Rivers speaking from the wide base of his knowledge as a composer, improviser, and conceptualist. These compositions were written between 1959 and 1972, and were finished as new elements came to him to fit them together conceptually. The fact that all six of them are so gorgeously juxtaposed is a testament to his discipline and his vision. From the beginning of "Exultation," the horns storm out of the gate, saxophones up front in what appears to be full free jazz freakout. Trumpets and trombones bleat behind, and the bass violins bow in unison on a modal opening. Within minutes, however, the rhythm section kicks in, and a full-on swinging soprano solo accompanied by the stomping bass of Workman fills the center for about 40 bars until the entire band comes back for a restated them that is knotty yet swinging. A number of instruments then jump through the center of the piece, creating an intervallic dialogue that prompts the soloists to come back in and take it. The intervals and contrapuntal structures are subtle enough to avoid seams -- though the jagged edges in the solos provide dense and beautiful textures -- and when the whole band comes back in, one doesn't notice that they are all grooving in a whole new rhythmic situation that is full of stops, starts, and sideways maneuvers. On "Tranquility," the bassist lays down a syncopated funk groove and long, drifting melodic lines that are written out comes flowing in between the bass and Stewart's tuba. They shimmer around each other in harmonic dissonance, though with the dynamics controlled, the edges are rounded. Rivers has written some of the most complex music of his life here, allowing for short, poignant, and often strictly composed solos to complement the linear, contrapuntal structures that these towering compositions are. As soloists do give way to one another, it is remarkable that the sheer density of hard swing provides the center of the maelstrom with such a wide emotional and chromatic palette. This is spiritual music in the most profound sense in that it attempts to breach the gyre between what has previously been said -- by Ellington, most notably -- what can be said, and the musically unspeakable. There is a massive centrifugal force at work in Rivers compositions here; and it pulls everything in, each dynamic stutter, legato phrase, ostinato whisper, and alteration in pitch in favor of what comes next. The swinging nature of these tunes refutes once and for all whether or not avant-garde music can be accessible -- -though it's true Sun Ra had already done that, but never to this extent. In sum, there are harsh moments here to be sure, but they are part of a greater and far more diverse musical universe, they are shards in the prism of the deep and burning soul that these six compositions offer so freely. Of the many recordings Rivers has done, this was the very first to showcase the full range of his many gifts. It is an underrated masterpiece and among the most rewarding and adventurous listening experiences in the history of jazz. Now that it is available on CD with pristine sound, you have no excuse.

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.

Marzette Watts (March 9, 1938, Montgomery, Alabama – March 2, 1998, Nashville) was an American jazz tenor and soprano saxophonist. He performed and recorded on bass clarinet as well. He had a brief career in music and is revered for his 1966 self-titled free jazz release. He was known also as a sound engineer.

Watts played piano early in his life; he did not play music regularly in his teens. He studied at Alabama State College, where he was a founding member of SNCC; this association led to his being forced to leave the state at the behest of the governor of Alabama.

He moved to New York, where he lived in a loft building on Cooper Square which also had as a tenant Leroi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), with whom he participated in the Organization of Young Men. Watts returned to college in New York, completing his studies in 1962; he then moved to Paris to study painting at the Sorbonne and began playing saxophone for extra money.

Returning to New York in 1963, Watts studied under Don Cherry and played in his loft and around the city with Jiunie Booth, Henry Grimes, J.C. Moses, and others. He also continued painting, producing work strongly influenced by Willem de Kooning.

Watts's loft attracted many established and up-and-coming musicians who would hang out there and play at parties, including Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders.

In 1965 he decided to devote himself to music more fully, and moved to Denmark for further study. When he returned to New York in 1966, he recorded an album for ESP-Disk with the assistance of composer Clifford Thornton, and recorded for Savoy Records in 1968. He wrote film scores and did production work for his own films, eventually abandoning music to work in film and record production.

Watts moved back and forth between Europe and New York; he taught briefly at Wesleyan University, assisting Sam Rivers and Clifford Thornton. Late in his life he moved to Santa Cruz, California. He died of heart failure in 1998.

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.

Dave Burrell - 1969 - Echo

Dave Burrell 

01. Echo 20:21
02. Peace 22:04

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Jones
Bass – Alan Silva
Cornet – Clifford Thornton
Drums – Sunny Murray
Piano – Dave Burrell
Tenor Saxophone – Archie Shepp
Trombone – Grachan Moncur III

Recorded August 13, 1969 in Paris.

This is one of those records that makes you wish you've never rated music. On one hand it's really very chaotic as you can never actually hear the instruments separately - all you hear is the sum of their sounds so it seems that all the guys play is merely noise. But on the other hand I can't get rid of the feeling that there is just too much sound on the album (especially on the first track) - maybe if they gave each other just a little bit more space we could really appreciate their unique ways of dealing with the sound, or maybe this chaotic sound is the main idea - like Ornette's Skies of America (which is, somehow, much easier to appreciate). So I give this album four stars merely because it gives a lot to think about - probably, I will be never able to say whether I like it or not. Anyway, those people, who say that the record "makes no sense" completely miss the point - there is no "sense" in music, that's why we love it so much.

Claude Delcloo & Arthur Jones - 1969 - Africanasia

Claude Delcloo & Arthur Jones 

01. Africanasia Part 1 19:10
02. Africanasia Part 2 17:27

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Jones
Congas – Clifford Thornton
Drums – Claude Delcloo
Drums [Log Drums] – Malachi Favors
Flute – Joseph Jarman, Kenneth Terroade, Roscoe Mitchell
Gong, Bells, Percussion – Earl Freeman

Recorded August 22, 1969, Studio Saravah, Paris.

A set led by drummer Claude Delcloo, but which features great performances from a variety of other musicians too – not just alto saxophonist Arthur Jones, who gets a lot of solo space in the set – but also Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman on reeds, Clifford Thornton on congas, Malachi Favors on log drums, and Earl Freeman on gong and percussion! Kenneth Terroade is also on the set on sax, and the album features lots of spare, stripped-down, AACM-ish moments – on the record's one long track, "Africanasia".

Joe McPhee & Survival Unit II With Clifford Thornton - 2006 - N.Y. N.Y. 1971

Joe McPhee & Survival Unit II With Clifford Thornton 
N.Y. N.Y. 1971

01. Announcement 1 0:34
02. Black Magic Man 6:25
03. Announcement 2 0:35
04. Nation Time 14:10
05. Song For Lauren 13:16
06. Announcement 3 0:34
07. Message From Denmark 13:33
08. The Looking Glass I 15:59
09. Harriet 13:36

Horn [Baritone] – Clifford Thornton
Percussion – Harold E. Smith
Piano – Mike Kull
Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone – Byron Morris
Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Composed By – Joe McPhee

At WBAI's Free Music Store, N.Y. N.Y., October 30, 1971

The Hat Art label was formed in the mid-'70s partly to document the music of multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. The tapes of this live concert, which was broadcast by the small New York radio station WBAI, were released for the first time on this 1996 CD. Doubling on tenor and trumpet, McPhee is joined by Clifford Thornton (heard on baritone horn and cornet), Byron Morris (on soprano and alto), pianist Mike Kull, and percussionist Harold E. Smith. Due to the passionate nature of much of this fairly free music and the use of Thornton's baritone horn, one does not really notice the absence of a string bass. The six lengthy pieces (which are sandwiched by somewhat stilted announcing) are full of fire but also have their quiet and lyrical moments. A strong all-around performance that should not have taken 25 years to release.

Without quesion, Joe McPhee is an American national treasure, and this recording offers proof that the idiosyncratic free jazz icon been one for over thirty years now. This disc documents a radio broadcast from at a time when the US was undergoing political and cultural upheavals, and the music is both reflective of such a time and the product of a proudly singular musical intelligence. The three announcements which were part of the original recording amount to just 1:43 out of a total playing time of almost 79 minutes.
The absence of a bass lends this quintet music a light and airy feel, even at its most heated moments, as on the lengthy "Nation Time," where McPhee proves he was able to blow up a storm with the best of the tenor players, and Byron Morris proves himself a worthy musician on soprano, though he has sadly escaped the attentions of posterity. Baritone horn player Clifford Thornton brings his own weirdly stately but deeply satisfying approach to bear here as well.

"Song For Lauren" is an example of a sort of lyricism that has arguably been downgraded in McPhee's music in more recent times, but it reveals what a multifaceted composer and musician he can be. This is just as it should be with any national treasure.

Pianist Mike Kull's work is, in its way, just as fascinating as that of any of the musicians here. His distance from Cecil Taylor's rolling thunder is as pronounced as his distance from, say, the insistent minimalism of the mature Mal Waldron. He also manages to avoid every hackneyed phrase in the book. One can't help but wonder what has become of Kull over the decades.

The sound restoration that has effectively brought this music back to life is exemplary enough to satisfy everyone except the most finicky of audiophiles. Besides, its shortcomings lend the music a certain urgency that wouldn't have been preserved in a pristine studio environment. As for the rest of us, this is a great opportunity to check in with McPhee on street level and follow his musical journey chronologically from there. Live a little and savour the challenge.

Clifford Thornton - 1975 - The Gardens of Harlem

Clifford Thornton 
The Gardens of Harlem

01. Ogún Bára 5:46
02. O Desayo 8:02
03. Agbadzá 9:42
04. Changó Obarí 4:33
05. Aïn Salah 8:16
06. Gospel Ballade 4:44
07. Sweet Oranges 1:08
08. Blues City 8:57

Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Dewey Redman
Baritone Saxophone, Flute – George Barrow
Bass – Andy Gonzalez
Cornet, Producer – Clifford Thornton
Drums [Trap Set] – Art Lewis
Flute, Alto Saxophone – Carlos Ward
French Horn – Gregory Williams, John Thompson
Percussion [Axatse, Kidi, Ntrowa] – Laxmi G. Tewari
Percussion [Gankogui, Nnaronta, Bell] – Asante Darkwa
Percussion [Itótele Bata, Tumba] – Milton Cardona
Percussion [Iyá Bata, Tumba, Palos] – Gene Golden
Percussion [Kónkolo Bata, Kaganu, Quinto, Tumba, Bell, Palos] – Jerry González
Percussion [Nnawuronta, Apentima, Oprenten, Ntrowa, Conga, Sogo, Atsimevu] – A. Kobena Adzenyah
Percussion [Tumba, Axatse], Congas – Vincent Jorge
Piano – Carla Bley
Tenor Saxophone – Roland Alexander
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Pat Patrick
Trombone – Charles Stephens, Janice Robinson
Trumpet – Hannibal Marvin Peterson, Michael Ridley, Leo Smith
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ted Daniel
Tuba – Bob Stewart

Recorded April 4, 1974 in New York City

Clifford Thornton - 1972 - Communications Network

Clifford Thornton 
Communications Network

01. Communications Network Part 1 11:46
02. Communications Network Part 2 5:29
03. Festivals And Funerals 24:45

Bass – Andy Gonzales (tracks: B), Sirone (tracks: A1, A2)
Congas, Percussion – Jerry Gonzales (tracks: B), Vincent George (tracks: B)
Cornet – Clifford Thornton
Electric Piano – Clifford Thornton (tracks: A1, A2)
Percussion – Jerome Cooper (tracks: A1, A2)
Saxophone [Soprano] – Nathan Davis (tracks: B)
Timbales, Percussion – Nicky Marrero (tracks: B)
Vibraphone – Jay Hoggard (tracks: B)
Violin – Lakshinarayana Shankar (tracks: A1, A2)
Voice [Poet] – Jayne Cortez (tracks: B)

Side A recorded on Jan. 22, 1972, ABC Stage City, New York.
Side B recorded on April 17, 1972, festival African American Music.

Here's a something that whilst worthy of a listen is perhaps not the best place to start with this particular artist, it's uneven but nonetheless has a few great moments.
Side 2 ,which is basically an accompaniment to Jayne Cortez's poetry conveys a fairly pervasive impression that this is indeed one of Thornton's weaker efforts.
that impression being reinforced largely by the fact of the low budget/ very poor engineering... in all honesty it has to be said that this is flabby in comparison to most of the relatively few other Thornton albums... it'seasy to hear why it hasnt been reissued.

Side one meanders a bit, though the recording quality is fine...and it does afford a glimpse of the great Karnatic master violinist L Shankar playing with Thornton and crew.

Clifford Thornton - 1971 - The Panther And The Lash

Clifford Thornton 
The Panther And The Lash

01. Huey Is Free 12:25
02. El Fath 13:35
03. Tout Le Pouvoir Au Peuple 4:15
04. Paysage Désolé 4:00
05. Right On ! 3:30
06. Shango / Aba L'Ogun 11:15
07. Mahiya Illa Zalab 4:30

Bass – Beb Guérin
Cornet, Shanai, Trombone, Maracas, Piano – Clifford Thornton
Percussion – Noël McGhie
Piano, Celesta, Balafon, Maracas – François Tusques

Live concert at "La Maison de la Radio" (ORTF) Paris - November 7, 1970.

The album title, referencing the first truly great anthology of poetry written by an African-American, Langston Hughes's 1926 book of the same name, nails Clifford Thornton's political colors firmly to the mast, and they're black. Described, with some justification, by Philippe Carles, the co-author of the seminal Free Jazz Black Power, as the quintessential free jazz performer, Thornton is in absolutely breathtaking form throughout this live set recorded in Paris on November 7, 1970, on which he plays not only the cornet but also trombone, piano, percussion, and shenai, accompanied by the cream of the crop of the local free music warriors, pianist François Tusques and bassist Beb Guérin, as well as the woefully under-recorded American expat drummer Noel McGhie. It's one of the highlights of the America back catalog and its reissue is cause for celebration. Thornton was able, in an all too brief career (he died in Geneva in relative obscurity in 1989), to sign three truly great free jazz albums under his own name. The Panther and the Lash fills the gap between Freedom & Unity (recorded on the day after Coltrane's funeral in 1967, reissued by Atavistic in 2001) and 1975's Jazz Composers Orchestra outing The Gardens of Harlem (JCOA), and is just as indispensable.

Clifford Thornton - 1969 - Ketchaoua

Clifford Thornton 

01. Ketchaoua 12:35
02. Pan African Festival 7:50
03. Brotherhood 10:40
04. Speak With Your Echo (And Call This Dialogue) 9:15

Recorded August 18, 1969 in Paris.

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Jones
Bass – Beb Guerin
Congas, Gong, Percussion – Earl Freeman
Cornet, Congas – Clifford Thornton
Drums – Sunny Murray
Piano, Bells – Dave Burrell
Soprano Saxophone – Archie Shepp
Trombone – Grachan Moncur III

Clifford Thornton's only Actuel date as a leader is, like many of the others in this BYG series, an all-star blowing session highly indicative of the times. For some, it will be difficult to tell whether taking credit for composing these pieces is a lost cause. This is some very free music and, save for a handful of scored passages, almost wholly improvised. A number of the scene's top players make appearances here in different groups. On the large ensemble pieces Thornton is joined by Grachan Moncur III, Archie Shepp (on soprano sax), Arthur Jones, Dave Burrell, Beb Guerin, Earl Freeman, and Sunny Murray. Otherwise, "Brotherhood," a piece for quintet, is performed by Thornton, Jones, Guerin, Freeman, and this time, drummer Claude Delcloo, while on "Speak With Your Echo" only the two bassists (Guerin and Freeman) accompany Thornton's cornet. This piece in particular is especially enjoyable and reminiscent perhaps of Arthur Jones' fantastic ballad, "Brother B," from his own Actuel LP, Scorpio. At times the ensemble pieces sound like a Pan-African Morton Feldman, and at others, hazy, psychedelic post bop. Fans of brooding and contemplative improvised music will find a great deal to enjoy here. In fact, many would argue that this is the best LP under Thornton's leadership.

1969's Ketchaoua leaps through many styles in a way that reminds me of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and also Archie Shepp in this era—Shepp appears on half of the album.  Side A contains two long tracks that feature large ensembles and a lot of simple, interweaving percussion.  Both tracks gradually evolve into brief periods of recognizable jazz styles before floating back into more abstract terrain.  The opening title track might be the least prominent appearance from drummer Sunny Murray, who blends into the massed percussion.  The two tracks on side B are opposite extremes, though both feature smaller groups.  "Brotherhood" draws from New York energy jazz, with Claude Delcloo's percussion prominent in the mix.  "Speak with Your Echo" ends the album with its sparsest arrangement, featuring only Thornton and two bassists.  The recording quality varies, with the large groups sounding better than "Brotherhood", where the explosive percussion reverberates awkwardly in a boxy room. Who cares, it still sounds great.

Clifford Thornton New Art Ensemble - 1967 - Freedom & Unity

Clifford Thornton New Art Ensemble 
Freedom & Unity

01. Free Huey
02. 15th Floor
03. Miss Oula
04. Kevin (The Theme)
05. Exosphere
06. Uhuru
07. O.C.T.

Alto Saxophone – Sonny King
Bass – Don Moore, Jimmy Garrison (tracks: B3), Tyrone Crabb (tracks: A1, B4)
Cornet – Edward Avent (tracks: A1, B4)
Drums – Harold (Nunding) Avent
Trumpet – Joe McPhee (tracks: B3)
Valve Trombone – Clifford Thornton
Vibraphone – Karl Berger

Recorded on July 22, 1967 at Sound City Studios in New York City.

Clifford was born in Philadelphia. The year of his birth has been reported as early as 1934 or as late as 1939. He briefly attended Morgan State University and Temple University. Jazz pianist Jimmy Golden was his uncle, while his cousin, drummer J. C. Moses, had a jazz career that was cut short by failing health. Clifford began piano lessons when he was seven-years-old. Several biographers report that Clifford studied with trumpeter Donald Byrd during 1957, after Byrd had left Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and also that he worked with 17-year-old tuba player Ray Draper and Webster Young. Following a late 50's stint in the U.S. Army bands Thornton moved to New York City.

Clifford's political and musical motivations are epitomized by his statement: "For a lot of brothers like myself, we got no choice. What else can we do in this world that's not a slave job? Really, what are our options? We have to be creative musicians if we want to be somebody in this world."

In the early 1960s, Clifford lived in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in an apartment building with other young musicians, including Rashied Ali, Marion Brown, and Don Cherry. He performed with numerous avant-garde jazz bands, appearing as a sideman on records by notable artists Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and Sam Rivers. In the January 1976 Black World/Negro Digest, Ron Welburne states that during this period Clifford had been active in the Black Arts Movement, associated with Amiri Baraka and Jayne Cortez. This musical and artistic network provided him with a variety of perspectives on ideas such as black self-determination, performance forms, outside playing, and textural rhythm; it also gave him access to performers who would provide the abilities some of his later compositions required. He was included in the dialogue around the developing thought of political artists, including Shepp, Askia M. Touré, and Nathan Hare, as well as the journals Freedomways and Umbra.

Thornton's interest in composition eventually became the focus of his musical career. He had worked with Marzette Watts on the latter's first recording sessions; Watts credited Clifford's organizational skills and management of the group dynamics with the success of the sessions in achieving their goals.

Thornton's first album, Freedom & Unity (1967), was recorded the day after John Coltrane's funeral. The ensemble included Karl Berger, Coltrane associate Jimmy Garrison, and the first recorded appearance of Joe McPhee. It also included Edward and Harold "Nunding" Avent, a black activist who a year later was suspected of being an informant and provocateur for the FBI. Of the ten songs, only the twenty-second-long "Kevin" is credited to Thornton. Archie Shepp and Ornette Coleman both wrote liner notes for the album. In the AllMusic review, Rob Ferrier says: "As Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp hearkened back to field hollers and very basic folk forms, musicians like Clifford Thornton went in the opposite direction, building on the music of the sophisticates and expanding the possibilities for jazz."

Thornton was invited with Shepp to perform in Algiers for the 1969 Pan-African Cultural Festival of the Organization for African Unity. This visit had an important impact on his developing political thought, and he claimed that it helped to integrate his musical and political aims. The next month he was in Paris, and over an eleven-day period at BYG Actuel he recorded five albums, including Ketchaoua, his second album as leader and first with his own compositions. In October a Thornton-led group performed at the Actuel Festival in Amougies, Belgium. This early European pop and jazz festival, which claimed Woodstock as an inspiration, included performances by Pink Floyd, MEV, and a jam-session which included Frank Zappa and Archie Shepp.

In November he was back in Paris as a sideman on Archie Shepp's albums Black Gypsy and Pitchin Can. He continued to work in France through the next year, recording in July 1970 with Shepp, and completing his own album The Panther and the Lash in early November. During this two-year period, Thornton worked with many European free jazz musicians, as well as growing his network of contacts to embrace Americans who had not been in the early-'60s New York scene, such as Chicago musicians Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors, and Anthony Braxton). Thornton also established politial and intellectual connections to avant-garde artists and musicians, including Frederic Rzewski, Philip Glass, and Richard Teitelbaum. During that period he also commenced a relationship with Cristine Jakob.

In 1968, music instructor Ken McIntyre recommended Thornton as a candidate for Assistant Professor in world music at Wesleyan University. He was hired in 1969; this position gave him the security to travel to Africa and France. His tenure ran through 1975; during that period he brought many of his network of jazz musicians as Artists-in-Residence on campus, giving the academic world-music community more exposure to current American music. Among those artists were Sam Rivers, Jimmy Garrison, Ed Blackwell, and Marion Brown. He arranged performances at Wesleyan by Rashied Ali, Horace Silver, and many other jazz musicians. In addition, he included other artists from the world music program on his recordings, such as Milton Cardona, Abraham Konbena Adzenyah, Pandit Laxmi Ganesh Tewari, and Lakshminarayana Shankar), and introduced them to his fellow African-American performers.

While at Wesleyan, he recorded the 1972 pastiché album Communications Network (side one with Sirone and Shankar, side two backing Jayne Cortez, and both engineered by Marzette Watts). He also began writing for the Gardens of Harlem album.

Thornton's earliest recordings as a composer and arranger are found on Marzette Watts's eponymous 1966 record. Most works recorded with his own name as leader were large-form compositions. He used as many as eight performers on the ten recordings, and their length runs from the eight-minute "Pan-African Festival" to the twenty-five-minute "Festivals and Funerals" on the album Communications Network (1972). He included shorter pieces by his collaborators on the albums, as well as his arrangements of traditional African pieces. The Gardens of Harlem (1974) was developed as a project of the Jazz Composer's Orchestra during 1972–'74, and was revised twice before the twenty-five-person recording was done in April 1974. It was released in 1975.

About The Gardens of Harlem Clifford wrote: "The challenge of writing for and working with large, ensembles has always interested me. My first influences in this direction as a child were the big bands of Basie, Eckstine, Gillespie, Machito and Puente. Later, I had the good fortune of working with the orchestras of Sun Ra, Bill Dixon, Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp and the JCOA. The spiritual and psychological fulfillment resulting from re-establishing the relationship with the traditional ethos...serves chiefly as a balance between the inner-self and the environment. This is, in part, the role and function of music in traditional African societies and among peoples of primarily African derivation. In this connection, music is vital to both religious and secular life for the same reasons and is manifested in the same ways. It is the core and foundation, the language of both religious and philosophic thought."

Thornton was widely perceived in the media as owning radical political leanings and connections with leading figures of the Black Panther Party; he is supposed to have met Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver during the Pan-African Cultural Festival in 1969, and claims have been made that he was a BPP Minister for Art. He was denied entry into France in 1970, reportedly for a speech he made either at that year's Juan-les-Pins Jazz Festival or at Mutualite Hall in Paris; the ban was lifted in 1971. Because of this interruption, Thornton was unable to continue performing and recording in Paris.

In 1976, Clifford accepted a position with UNESCO's International Bureau of Education to be an educational counselor on African-American education; he spent the remainder of his life in Geneva, Switzerland. He remained active musically; he led a performance in 1977 at Willisau, Lucerne, Switzerland, did two recordings in Austria with Anthony Braxton in 1977 and '78, and was featured on a 1980 record with a group led by former Dollar Brand reedman and South African exile Joe Malinga.

Like his birth date, the date of his death is uncertain; it has been reported to have occurred as early as 1983 (New Grove Dictionary of Jazz) or as late as 1989 (The Penguin Jazz Guide). He has two children, the oldest is living in Austin Texas, his name is Kevin Miles Thornton[citation needed], the other, musician/producer Layan Clifford Thornton living in France.

Several of Thornton's musician contemporaries claim his music influenced them. The most notable were Joe McPhee (who owns Thornton's valve trombone), Marzette Watts, and Bill Cole. Younger musicians affected by Clifford's musical thought include Fred Ho, Hajj Daoud Haroon, George Starks, Ras Moshe Burnett, Peter Zummo, and Marie Incontrera. A number of musicians and educators also directly benefitted from being part of Thornton's network, among them Marion Brown, Ed Blackwell, Rashied Ali, Jimmy Garrison, Sam Rivers, and Lakshminarayana Shankar.

Thornton can be heard on only a small number of recordings that are now difficult to find. Still, thirty (or perhaps thirty-five) years after his demise, Clifford's work remains highly regarded by critics such as Thurston Moore, author Philippe Carles, and's Sean Singer.

Under the direction of John Corbett, Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series is not only preserving creative music documents but is writing the history of a woefully under documented time. Freedom & Unity, the latest in this series by little known trombonist/trumpeter Claude Thornton, is a natural extension of the music of Ornette Coleman.
Recorded one day after John Coltrane’s funeral, this session features Trane sideman Jimmy Garrison on two tracks and Joe McPhee (playing trumpet) on three. Thornton, who rehearsed across the hall from Ornette’s trio, certainly was listening. His piano-less quintet and extended New Art Ensemble pursue Coleman’s breakthroughs in melody and rhythm with different instrumentation. They certainly prove that free principals can be applied to the vibes, as Karl Berger does here and on later recordings with Don Cherry. Alto saxophonist Sonny King (we should find out more about this guy) tears through songs bridging bebop and freedom principles.

Thornton’s valve trombone is the payday here. He floats lines, setting moods or barking replies to the cornet. Thornton’s trombone later recorded with Sunny Murray, Sun Ra and Archie Shepp. The liner notes point out he was denied a visa to enter France because they suspected him of belonging to the Black Panthers. His revolutionary music and self-produced LP’s received little attention in the mainstream press, as he had no access to distribute his music, and in the late 1960s and 1970s, American record companies were withdrawing their support of creative music. The Cecil Taylors, Anthony Braxtons and Joe McPhees of this world either became exiles or recorded for small foreign labels. Clifford Thornton moved to Europe and died in relative obscurity in the mid-80s. This document of significant music calls for further exploration of the ever-neglected free jazz past.

Amalgam - 1979 - Wipe out

Wipe out

01. Wipe Out 15:18
02. Roller Coaster Pt.1 9:52
03. Roller Coaster Pts.2 & 3 19:00
04. Ongoing Situation Pt.1 22:20
05. Ongoing Situation Pt.2 13:40
06. Children 8:41
07. Tribute To Mingus Pts.1 & 2 21:17
08. Tribute To Mingus Pt.3 18:00
09. The Golden Salamander 9:15
10. War Dance 13:28
11. Monk's House 4:18
12. Homecoming 17:50

Trevor Watts, alto and soprano saxophones
Keith Rowe - guitars
Liam Genockey - drums
Colin McKenzie - bass (tracks 1-3, 7-9)
George Lyle - bass (track 12)

All tracks live recordings:
Track A1 recorded in Sheffield
Tracks A2, B, E to G1 recorded in Leeds
Tracks C, D1 and H1 recorded at Kendal
Track D2 recorded at The Kitchen
Tracks G2 and H2 recorded at Hebden Bridge

Includes 18 page leaflet with informations to the tracks and musicians.

10th  and final recording 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 quartet, including guitarist Keith Rowe, bassists Colin McKenzie and George Lyle and drummer Liam Genockey, the last stable lineup of the ensemble before it disbanded in 1980 marking 13 years of activity. The music is written by Watts or is spontaneously composed and was recorded live during Amalgam's last British tour. This album was originally released on the legendary independent Impetus label as a 6 LPs set, and was unavailable for many years, which is now rectified by this CD issue. With the guitar and electric bass the sound of the band is close to Fusion, but with the extended improvisations, complete freedom of expression and virtuosity of the performers the music retains all of the qualities of Improvised Music remaining relatively accessible. This set includes three hours of visionary, complex and dense music, which is completely unique and unprecedented. Listeners looking for a total musical experience should look no further. This is classic and brilliant stuff in every respect!

Amalgam - 1979 - Over the rainbow

Over the rainbow

01. Wimbledon music I (16.26)
02. Wimbledon music II (05.07)
03. Wimbledon music III (10.11)
04. Wimbledon music IV (13.14)

Recorded live Wimbledon Theatre, London on Recorded live at Wimbledon Theatre, London 11.2.79

Trevor Watts - alto and soprano saxophones
Keith Rowe - guitars
Colin McKenzie - bass
Liam Genockey - drums and gonguitar

9th  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 quartet, including guitarist Keith Rowe, bassist Colin McKenzie and drummer Liam Genockey, the last stable lineup of the ensemble before it disbanded in 1980 marking 13 years of activity. The music is written by Watts or is spontaneously composed and was recorded live. This album was originally released on the Arc label, owned by Watts, and was unavailable for many years, which is now rectified by this CD issue. With the guitar and electric bass the sound of the band is close to Fusion, but with the extended improvisations, complete freedom of expression and virtuosity of the performers the music retains all of the qualities of Improvised Music remaining relatively accessible. This set includes visionary, complex and dense music, which is completely unique and unprecedented. Listeners looking for a total musical experience should look no further. This is classic and brilliant stuff in every respect!

Amalgam - 1977 - Samanna


01. Samanna 20:47
02. Maas 4:54
03. Unity 14:44
04. Berlin Wall 6:50

Alto Saxophone, Percussion – Trevor Watts
Bass – Colin McKenzie, Pete Cowling
Drums – Liam Genockey
Guitar – Dave Cole

5th  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 quintet, including guitarist Dave Cole, bassists Pete Cowling and Colin McKenzie and drummer Liam Genockey, which marks an extension of the quartet that recorded the previous album at beginning of the second phase of Amalgam, characterized by the dual saxophone – guitar frontline. The music is written entirely by Watts. This album was originally released on the tiny German independent Vinyl label, and was unavailable for many years, which is now rectified by this CD issue. With the guitar and double electric bass the sound of the band becomes even more close to Fusion, but the extended improvisations and the virtuosity of the performers are still the same as always. This is again quite an accessible Amalgam album ever and easily enjoyed both by Jazz and Fusion adventurous music fans. This is still a classic and brilliant stuff as always!

Amalgam - 1977 - Mad


01. Wai-Ya Wai-Ya
02. Jive
03. Berlin Wall / Mad

Bass – Colin McKenzie
Drums – Liam Genockey
Electric Piano – Willem Kuhne
Saxophone [Saxophones] – Trevor Watts

Mad is a seriously killer album buy UK free-jazz guru Trevor Watts. Amalgam was a band name he used when he didn’t want his musicians to be chastised by pigeonholes and genre specifics. Amalgam seemed to be a community where likeminded musicians where let free to express their musical desires.

You can not under estimate the importance of Trevor Watts in the UK free-jazz scene, ok so Joe Harriott was the originator of the UK avant scene, but he was a real lone player, maybe a little ahead of his time, but Trevor Watts really became the godfather of this whole British sub-culture.

This album has unfairly been lumped under the jazz-rock banner, god knows how, but forget about banners and give it a go. Full-on don’t get much more full-on than this, you will be exhausted after sitting thorough the whole thing.

Amalgam - 1977 - Deep


01. Later 13:11
02. Witchdoctor 14:53
03. Tribute To Bing Crosby 12:36
04. Don't Worry 13:07

Acoustic Bass – Harry Miller
Alto Saxophone, Producer, Composed By – Trevor Watts
Drums – Liam Genockey
Electric Guitar – Dave Cole

Recorded and mixed at Riverside Recordings, London, November 17, 1977

7th  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 quartet, including guitarist Dave Cole, bassists Harry Miller and drummer Liam Genockey, which marks the second phase of Amalgam, characterized by the dual saxophone – guitar frontline. The music is written entirely by Watts. This album was originally released on the tiny German independent Vinyl label, and was unavailable for many years, which is now rectified by this CD issue. With the guitar and double electric bass the sound of the band becomes even more close to Fusion, but the extended improvisations and the virtuosity of the performers are still the same as always. This is again quite an accessible Amalgam album ever and easily enjoyed both by Jazz and Fusion adventurous music fans. This is still a classic and brilliant stuff as always!

Amalgam - 1976 - Another Time

Another Time

01. Jive 5:39
02. Suzie Jay 6:03
03. Tribute To 'Trane 6:58
04. Just East Of Mars 6:30
05. Another Time 11:30
06. Chips 10:06

Recorded at The Workhouse Studios, New Cross, London, 21st & 23rd July 1976

Trevor Watts - alto & soprano saxophones
Steve Hayton - guitar
Pete Cowling - bass guitar
Liam Genockey - drums

4th  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 quartet, including guitarist Steve Hayton, bassist Pete Cowling and drummer Liam Genockey, which marks the beginning of the second phase of Amalgam, which is characterized by the dual saxophone – guitar frontline. The music is written entirely by Watts, who after the departure of drummer John Stevens became the group's main composer. This album was originally released on the tiny German independent Vinyl label, and was unavailable for many years, which is now rectified by this CD issue. With the guitar and electric bass the sound of the band changes completely, with a distinct Fusion feel, but the dexterity and obvious genius are still the same as always. This is probably the most accessible Amalgam album ever recorded and young listeners, ignorant of the band's Improvised Music roots should be able to enjoy it immensely. This is still a classic, although a different cup of tea altogether. Brilliant stuff!

First time outing on CD for this classic Amalgam recording originally released on Berlin's
Vinyl Records in 1976. Trevor Watts heads a highly experienced line up which includes
Steve Hayton on guitar, the bass guitar of Pete Cowling and the confident drumming of
Liam Genockey and features six mostly Watts composed original quartet pieces.

Amalgam - 1974 - Innovation


01. Staggering
02. When Is Now
03. Hello
04. Suzie Jay
05. Austrian Roll

Alto Saxophone – Trevor Watts
Bass – Kent Carter, Lindsay Cooper
Congas – Terry Quaye
Drums – John Stevens
Piano – Keith Tippett

Recorded 12.11.74

3rd 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 includes the legendary drummer John Stevens, pianist Keith Tippett, bassists Kent Carter and Lindsay Cooper and conga player Terri Quaye. The music includes four compositions by Stevens and one by Watts, all of which are excellent vehicles for the extended improvisations. This album was originally released on the tiny independent Tangent label, and was unavailable for many years, which is now rectified by this CD issue. In many respects this album is quite different from most of the ensemble's output, as it includes a piano, which was not usually included in the lineup, mellowing the overall sound. Tippett plays wonderfully of course and his contribution is most valuable. Overall this is yet another example of the wonderful forces at work during a most illustrious period in British Jazz. A classic of the genre and a must for any Free Jazz / Improvised Music buff!

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!

Amalgam - 1969 - Prayer For Peace

Prayer For Peace

01. Tales Of Sadness
02. Judys' Smile I
03. Judys' Smile II
04. Judys' Smile III
05. Prayer For Peace

Recorded at Advision London on the 20th May 1969

Trevor Watts: alto sax
John Stevens: drums
Jeff Clyne: bass
Barry Guy: bass

In the late 60s, British jazz was in a state of flux, pulling itself into strange new shapes influenced by the U.S. avant garde, European improvisation and rock and giving birth to bands such as Keith Tippett's Centipede, Nucleus, and Trevor Watts' Amalgam.
Alto saxophonist Watts was the driving force behind the legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble, alongside drummer John Stevens. While that outfit took post Coltrane jazz further out into the spiky landscapes of what was later to be called 'free improvisation', Amalgam operated in more melodic, less cerebral territory over their thirteen year history.
The 1969 debutPrayer for Peace originally appeared as a double album on the Transatlantic label (home to Brit folkies Pentangle) and featured the trio of Watts, bassist Jeff Clyne plus the now sadly departed Stevens on drums. Though you might expect flat out full on free jazz blowout from such a line up, Prayer for Peace is for the most part a warm, soulful thing, full of space, light and shade.
Watts's fruity alto stylingscarry amagisterial weight derived from Coltrane coupled with some of Albert Ayler's quivering vibrato, though his preference for clear, unbroken melodic line recalls Ornette Coleman. The absence of a chordal instrument isn't felt, partly due to Eddie Offord's lushly atmospheric recording but mostly due to Clyne, whose fat, melodic lines provide warm, unflagging support throughout.
The opening "Tales of Sadness" is a beautiful essay in controlled group improvisation; Clyne and Stevens opt for pulse rather than time under Watts's spare but lovely theme, with Steven's skittering snare decelerating and accelerating. Eventually the rhythm section hits a splashy, restless groove as the alto heads off into abstracted, chopped up phrases. Three takes of "Judy's Smile" show both the trio's differing approaches to the same material and their ability to generate a fearsome amount of swing. Throughout there's a constant three way exchange - these guys have big ears, always on the listen.
For the closing title track Clyne is replaced by Barry Guy, whose warm, buzzing arco bass makes the ideal foil for Watts's plaintive Ayleresque melody. To close, bass and alto circle each other, firing off high pitched harmonics into the ether.Lovely, empathic musicmaking from a fascinating era in Britjazz history. Heady days indeed.

Spontaneous Music Ensemble - 2008 - Bare Essentials

Spontaneous Music Ensemble 
Bare Essentials

101. In The Midlands 5:51
102. In The Middle 19:59
103. Three Extracts 16:56
104. For Phil 32:25

201. Newcastle 72A 15:51
202. Newcastle 72B 7:59
203. Open Flower 1 2:20
204. Open Flower 2 3:36
205. Open Flower 3 7:02
206. Open Flower 4 2:34
207. Open Flower 5 1:02
208. Open Flower 6 2:49
209. Open Flower 7 8:25
210. Opening The Set 4:27
211. Beyond Limitation 8:15
212. Lowering The Case 9:27

All analogue concert recordings made by TREVOR WATTS
A1: Wolverhampton (Polytechnic) - 1973 APRIL 5
A2: London (Little Theatre Club) - 1972 OCTOBER 5
A3: London (Little Theatre Club) - 1972 SEPTEMBER 20
A4: London (Little Theatre Club) - 1972 OCTOBER 13
B1 - B2: Newcastle-upon-Tyne - 1972 NOVEMBER 30
B3 - B9: London (Little Theatre Club) - 1973 JANUARY 5
B10: London (Little Theatre Club) - 1973 FEBRUARY 2
B11: London (Little Theatre Club) - 1973 JANUARY 28
B12: London (Little Theatre Club) - 1973 MARCH 9
Total time 149:57

Percussion, Cornet, Voice, Music By – John Stevens (2)
Soprano Saxophone, Voice, Music By, Recorded By [Analogue Concert Recordings] – Trevor Watts

Ever since I heard this duo, I have thought that if any music deserved to be called minimalist it was this one, because they managed to strip the music down to its bare essentials yet keep its content - unlike so much minimal art that seems to 'throw out the baby with the bathwater'.

For most of the years 1972 and 1973, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble was the duo of John Stevens and Trevor Watts (with others added from time to time on an ad hoc basis). One should not, however, think of this as an ‘in between’ phase – it was an intense period of exploration and experimentation. They used to rehearse in private most days, and perform in public most weeks usually at the Little Theatre Club in London where most of this music was recorded.

When an opportunity of a record release arose, Stevens tended to put a special enhanced group together rather than use a regularly working group. I was so taken by this duo being a complete group, that I was determined to issue an LP by them unenhanced when I started Emanem in 1974. Hence FACE TO FACE, recorded late 1973. Over thirty years later, we now have a most unexpected but very welcome opportunity to listen to some earlier work by this duo.

At the time, some people thought this music was cold, clinical and lacking variety. These recordings show that it was far from all that – it varied from the emotional ferocity of Free Jazz heard in parts of FOR PHIL to the quiet stillness heard in LOWERING THE CASE. All this was achieved with Trevor Watts just playing soprano saxophone, and John Stevens playing either his small drum set or his recently acquired cornet. (They also made some use of their voices.)

Portable cassette players became generally available around 1970, and Trevor Watts was one of the first people to use one to extensively record performances. Such machines were extremely convenient to use, but they tended to make noisy recordings. However, it has now been possible to clean up the sound thanks to the wonders of modern digital technology.

Watts recently went through his cassette archive and came up with several hours of duo recordings that he made with Stevens in late 1972 and early 1973 – a period not otherwise available on record. Prior to this release, there were no published small group SME recordings made between the mid 1971 quartet with Julie Tippett and Ron Herman and the duo in late 1973; and there were no published examples of Stevens’ cornet playing from before late 1973.

I set about going through this material, cleaning up the sound, and reducing the quantity to a manageable amount (with Watts’ approval). A few items were eliminated because the recordings were faulty. Some performances were dispensable because they were similar to others, but not so inspired. Most of the finally selected pieces have been edited – after all it was Stevens who alerted me to the art of editing improvised music!

Thus IN THE MIDDLE comes from a 38-minute performance which got off to a tentative start. Then towards the end, Stevens sounds as though he lost interest – something he often did after feeling that a successful piece had run its course. These two lesser parts have thus been removed to leave a very fine middle 20-minute section. At first sight, Watts’ playing may seem limited, but further listening and acclimatisation reveals an apparently infinite supply of ideas. Watch out for a conversational section where Stevens just plays wood blocks, bells and elbow-tuned drums - the two players particularly seem to fit together hand-in-glove there. This contrasts with the forward momentum of IN THE MIDLANDS which starts the CD.

The conversational aspect is even more obvious on THREE EXTRACTS, which is now the earliest recording of Stevens’ cornet playing to be issued. This track consists of the start of a 29-minute cornet and saxophone duo, along with two later excerpts, eliminating three less inspired sections. After a fairly equal discourse in the opening, the second extract finds Stevens repeating a note which goads Watts into some very emotional playing, followed by a section in which Watts alternates voice and saxophone notes in a very African way. The third extract involves a considerable amount of flexible droning.

It can be argued that improvisations should not be edited to enable one to follow the whole flow. Or that it’s interesting to hear how musicians like Stevens and Watts managed to get themselves out of relatively dull situations. However, I think that a published recording designed for repeated listening should only really contain the best bits. After all, there are non-musical as well as musical events that influence improvisation, and we rarely know what happened to musicians in the period before the performances.

In one case we do know of an outside event: The great jazz drummer Phil Seamen died earlier on the day that FOR PHIL was recorded. This heartfelt performance is included here complete. It begins in a very stark manner as if the duo were coming to terms with the sad news they had just received. The momentum picks up sporadically, somewhat abetted by Stevens’ wailing, and eventually reaches a fever pitch at the height of which the drums are replaced by the cornet. The tension subsides as the two horns go through a funereal section, and quieten down to some afterthoughts. How can this be called ‘abstract music’? It’s one of the most moving requiems I have ever heard.

The two complete NEWCASTLE pieces are perhaps more typical of the duo’s work at the time – very moving within their somewhat static environment. They both generally stay in a particular area, but the first one has a surprising final section.

Around the change of year, the duo started concentrating on Stevens’ extreme minimal click piece FLOWER. They carried on in this manner for most of the year – an austere period of removing everything but the bare essentials – and an example from the following October has been released on FRAMEWORKS. Both Trevor Watts and I feel that the later released performance tells one all one needs to know about the formal aspect of the piece, so the clicking aspect has been left out of the January pieces heard here leaving just the ensuing free sections.

The seven OPEN FLOWER tracks, like the later FACE TO FACE pieces, show how one of Stevens’ basic conceptions can result in improvisations taking off in several different directions. Note how the music goes off in a somewhat unexpected direction half way through the third one when Watts, momentarily left on his own, boils over. BEYOND LIMITATION is another example from a few weeks later of where the same concept can lead, with Stevens adding a complementary vocal line. OPENING THE SET is the start of their performance at a festival they organised at the Little Theatre Club.

LOWERING THE CASE contains an example of a different sort of minimalism that they often indulged in - a very quiet and slow section that anticipates some more recent directions - something that can also be heard on other recordings from the period. (This section was difficult to clean up as the music was quieter than the hiss, which may be the reason why this area of playing didn’t really catch on until the advent of digital recording.)

Trevor Watts plays superbly throughout these two CDs. He actually plays superbly throughout all of the unedited cassettes, whereas John Stevens was always trying something else and not always succeeding. However, his playing is magnificent on the music included in this album, and there is much of his unique small kit drumming which somehow implied both momentum and stasis at the same time. But perhaps the most amazing aspect is their togetherness – they often sound one four-armed person playing two instruments.


Spontaneous Music Ensemble - 2007 - Frameworks 1967-72

Spontaneous Music Ensemble 
Frameworks 1967-72

01. Familie Sequence
02. Quartet Sequence
03. Flower

Percussion – John Stevens
Bass Clarinet – Trevor Watts
Soprano Saxophone – Trevor Watts
Flugelhorn – Kenny Wheeler
Trombone – Paul Rutherford
Voice – Norma Winstone
Double Bass – Ron Herman
Guitar, Voice – Julie Tippett
Soprano Saxophone – Trevor Watts
Voice – John Stevens

Track 1 recorded at London on July 14, 1968.
Track 2 recorded at London on April 25, 1971.
Track 3 recorded at London (Little Theatre Club) on October 11, 1973.

John Stevens was never satisfied. After coming up with a unique, viable and highly influential method of group improvisation in the middle of 1967 (usually referred to as 'SME Music'), he decided to introduce other elements, most notably the Click Piece and the Sustained Piece which became the most extreme of his pieces designed to help people into group improvising. These, and other such concepts, began to be used in the music of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME), as can be heard on this CD.

Another change occurring early in 1968 was that Trevor Watts rejoined the SME, after a year away from the group. He then stayed until 1976, but has always maintained that it wasn’t really his sort of music, as can be ascertained by his more overtly rhythmic and lyrical work before and after, as well as in his free jazz group Amalgam which co-existed with this SME period. However, it must be said that his work with the SME is superb – but then, he is a superlative (and much underrated) musician.

This CD contains three previously unissued performances that all feature Stevens’ frameworks leading to group improvising. FAMILIE SEQUENCE from mid-1968 features a unusual instrumentation with three wind instruments, voice and percussion. (An earlier, unissued studio recording of FAMILIE has the very different instrumentation of two voices, piccolo, flute, soprano sax, piano, guitar, cello, two double basses and percussion.) The group texture is made even more unusual by Watts playing bass clarinet.

The first nine minutes comprise the loose theme which was heavily inspired by Gagaku (Japanese court music). This leads to a group improvisation which is interrupted at one point by a short section in which everyone plays glissandi together. Then come short Sustained and Click Pieces which in turn lead to another free improvisation which is capped off by looser versions of Sustained and Click. The overall sequence is unlike any other on record, although there are sections similar to other SME performances.

By the start of 1969, the SME had evolved to the line-up of Stevens, Watts, Johnny Dyani and Maggie Nicols with Wheeler added at times. This was followed by an unrecorded quartet with Mongezi Feza instead of Nicols and Wheeler. 1970 saw the inclusion of several more jazz-aligned musicians into the SME, then for several months in 1971 there was the quartet of Stevens, Watts, Julie Tippett and Ron Herman, which some listeners regard as their favourite SME line-up. (This band has a special place for me, since one of their concerts turned me on to the world of free improvisation.)

The QUARTET SEQUENCE heard here is somewhat similar to their masterpiece BIRDS OF A FEATHER which was recorded a few months later. One aspect of this quartet’s music was the reintroduction of free jazz elements into the SME group improvising. Thus the opening section is influenced by the trio of Albert Ayler, Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray – one of the major influences on the SME group music. The second section is more like SME group music, though it does contain repetitive elements. The third section is like a very emotional Ayler ballad. This is followed by a Click Piece and a Sustained Piece.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this quartet is the amazing interplay between saxophone and voice. Prior to this, Julie Tippett had been a successful pop singer (using her maiden name), but had become disillusioned with that world, and had decided to find something else that was more spiritually satisfying to her. Ron Herman was one of numerous young musicians discovered and encouraged by John Stevens. He played with the SME for a few years, but died at a tragically young age. Stevens can be heard using a glockenspiel in addition to his evolving small drums and cymbals kit that is heard throughout this CD.

For the next couple of years, the SME was basically just Stevens and Watts, with other people added on an ad hoc basis. During most of 1972 and 1973, the duo SME performances were very austere, concentrating on performances of the hyper-minimalist piece FLOWER, which is superficially similar to the Click Piece. Most of Stevens' pieces were designed to open up into freedom - after over six minutes of apparently mechanical playing, the version heard here changes into some emotionally charged free improvisation. This encapsulates the way they came out of their austere period late in 1973, culminating in the magnificent performances collected on FACE TO FACE (Emanem 4003).


Spontaneous Music Ensemble - 1997 - Withdrawal

Spontaneous Music Ensemble 

01. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1A 5:19
02. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1B 5:07
03. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1C 7:49
04. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 2 13:42
05. Withdrawal Sequence 1 11:22
06. Withdrawal Sequence 2 10:51
07. Withdrawal Sequence 3 "C4" 2:34
08. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Introduction "Puddles, Raindrops & Circles" 4:02
09. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Movement 1 4:43
10. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Movement 2 "C" 5:15
11. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Movement 3 7:23

Double Bass, Piano – Barry Guy
Drums, Percussion, Cymbal [Cymbals] – John Stevens
Guitar [Amplified] – Derek Bailey (tracks: 5 to 11)
Oboe, Alto Saxophone, Flute, Voice, Percussion – Trevor Watts
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion – Evan Parker
Trombone, Percussion – Paul Rutherford (2)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Percussion – Kenny Wheeler

1-4: 1966 September/October
5-11: 1967 March

Originally issued in 1997 as Emanem 4020.

All compositions by John Stevens

Here is a missing link between the first two Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) recordings to be published. The music on CHALLENGE (recorded 1966 March and reissued on Emanem 5029) is mainly free jazz, with composed themes framing improvisations which are mostly accompanied by the rhythm section. On the other hand, KARYOBIN (recorded 1968 February, originally on Island and now with its ownership in dispute) is radically different - a distinctive, translucent group improvisation with virtually no traces of jazz left. (Some earlier recordings of this highly influential SME or "atomistic" approach were eventually issued in 1995 as SUMMER 1967 on Emanem 4005.) Some aspects of this music, such as using many instruments to produce varied 'colours', are similar to those reached around the same time by the AACM in Chicago. It should be emphasised, however, that neither group of musicians was aware of each other’s existence at the time.

This CD, however, does not give the whole interim story - thirty years later one can only listen to the aspects that were recorded. The SME was then a collective grouping with John Stevens and Trevor Watts being the prime movers (and composers). Regular performances, mostly at the Little Theatre Club in London, featured some or all of these seven musicians (plus a few others) in various combinations, sometimes using composed material. All the while, new approaches were being tried, but many did not make it to tape.

"WITHDRAWAL was composed and recorded as the soundtrack to a 35 minute film of the same name, produced and directed by George Paul Solomos. The film was adapted from a 90-page book by David Chapman, based on the true story of a young male addict and his experiences in a mental institution. The group read the book in preparation of the soundtrack which, unusually, was intended to accompany the action throughout the film from start to finish." *

The film was hardly begun when it was aborted by a funding crisis and a dispute with the British Film Institute. However, two (slightly imperfect) mono tapes of music, intended for use as the soundtrack, survived. Special mention must be made of Kenny Wheeler's very fine playing in what is almost a concerto on PART 1, with Paul Rutherford's trombone and Trevor Watts' oboe providing most imaginative foils. PART 2 contains particularly excellent playing by Watts (on alto saxophone) and Wheeler. Barry Guy's role is limited to providing a flexible drone in both parts. These 1966 pieces are extracts from longer performances – tracks 1-3 were edited together at the time for possible release, while the edited-out start of PART 2 featured the drummer laying down a rock rhythm which everyone else ignored.

These recordings are the earliest released recordings of the then recent SME recruits, Barry Guy and Evan Parker – and they will probably remain the earliest. It must be said that not much of Parker is heard here – he says he felt overawed in such company! The other four musicians had all been on the CHALLENGE LP, whilst Wheeler (who migrated in 1952 from Toronto to London where he subsequntly remained) had appeared on numerous jazz records during the previous decade.

For the next three months Stevens was resident in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, with one or two other SME musicians joining him for shorter periods. The group still continued during this period under the direction of Watts, and there was one (as yet unissued) recording session - the only SME recording without Stevens. Watts also invited Derek Bailey to join them at the Little Theatre Club so, when Stevens returned, the group comprised seven musicians who all went on to have very distinguished careers in free improvisation and/or other areas of music.

It was decided to record an LP to be called WITHDRAWAL that would include a reworking of some of the material used for the soundtrack, plus a new suite composed by Stevens while he was away. The remainder of this CD (tracks 5-11) is the music that was chosen for that LP, but not issued until 1997 – all of these pieces are complete performances.

This session is one of the earliest recordings of Bailey playing free music. He appears to play excellently thoughout, but is unfortunately rather under-recorded.

The revisiting of the WITHDRAWAL material is quite different from the soundtrack recordings. For instance, Guy no longer has the restricted droning role he had before. The most obvious item in common is the glockenspiel motif played intermittently on the soundtrack by Stevens, and now played by Parker (who does not even get to play a saxophone on the two major tracks).

SEQUENCE 1 features some very fine trombone and trumpet work, and a prime example of what Victor Schonfield calls "start/stop" drumming. Stevens still used a fairly orthodox jazz drums and cymbals kit - the small SME kit (first recorded on SUMMER 1967) was some months off. SEQUENCE 2 is particularly notable for Watts' flute playing (over a rare example of Guy playing piano), while other tracks feature his equally strong oboe playing, A year or two later, he decided to concentrate exclusively on the soprano and alto saxophones, and abandoned his other wind instruments. SEQUENCE 3 is a sparse composed theme over a busy backdrop (based on C4 written for the mid-1966 Jeff Clyne Quartet SPRINGBOARD date).

"SEEING SOUNDS AND HEARING COLOURS was a suite composed and directed by Stevens with specific musical textures, timbres and 'colours' in mind. He said the composition had been influenced by Webern's FIVE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA, and that he visualised the score one morning (lines and shapes) while in Amsterdam. It reveals the group at an historically significant transitional point, experimenting with instrumentation and composition, before taking the plunge with free improvisation, but the group were not wholly satisfied with these experiments and Stevens later felt he was 'getting side-tracked from the natural, organic approach towards improvisation'. The suite was dedicated to artist Geoff Rigden."

The INTRODUCTION featuring oboe and bowed cymbal was inspired by a scene depicting raindrops falling into pools of water in a natural history film about New Zealand. MOVEMENT 1 starts with a flourish that ends with a long oboe note leading into a collective improvisation. MOVEMENT 2 is an improvisation built around the note C; the idea of improvising around a single note is similar to some music by Giacinto Scelsi, of whom the SME was then unaware. The final MOVEMENT 3 begins with three chords preceding a group improvisation that is terminated by the material from the start of MOVEMENT 1 in reverse.