Marzette Watts was a painter and reedman whose Cooper Square loft in New York City hosted many music jams in the mid-to-late ’60s. Here, some of the lesser-known players of the avant-garde perform some great music together. Instead of all-out improvs, there are compositions with great dialogues and harmonies between certain instruments, while others add accents or textures.
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On the opening “la,” the three frontliners Watts, altoist Byard Lancaster and trombonist Clifford Thornton continually play with each other or drop out as guitarist Sonny Sharrock adds tight clusters. Karl Berger’s vibraphone brings an openness in his note choices, giving the entire recording a lightness that other blowfests lack. The second cut, “Geno,” is slower, an almost dirge where the frontline merges instruments like a New Orleans funeral band without a consistent parade beat. The CD finishes with both Lancaster and Watts playing bass clarinet in a mysterious, airy fashion. This tune remains on the abstract side until Lancaster’s flute comes out and builds to wilder solos — encouraged by and encouraging Watts’ bass clarinet and Thornton’s trombone — before calming beneath the vibraphone/guitar combination. This ebb and flow infuses the music with a tension befitting the song’s title, “Backdrop for Urban Revolution,” without becoming too dense and difficult to hear. It also ends the record on a positive kick that will thrill fans of high-energy jazz.