In the early 1960s, saxophonist Trevor Watts, then age 20-something, was demobbed from the RAF, he moved to London and co-founded the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, going on to develop a unique conception of musical organisation and expression, as exemplified by numerous iterations of his African rhythm-influenced Moiré Music groups and the 1976 String Ensemble heard on Cynosure (the reissue of which I’ve also reviewed). Keyboard player Veryan Weston came up a decade after Watts, also moving to London in his early twenties, initially playing jazz and rock, and composing for film. In the mid 1980s he became the pianist in Watts’ first Moiré Music group.
The Watts/Weston duo recorded its first set of Dialogues in 2001. They then waited ten years before recording a follow up. Since then, however, there have been regular dispatches from an increasingly fruitful partnership that’s taken them to North America, where the excellent Dialogues in Two Places (Hi4Head, 2012) was recorded; to Amsterdam, in 2015, where they recorded their latest album’s titular tribute to the recently deceased Ornette Coleman; and to Rio de Janeiro, where the balance of the set was recorded.
Dialogues for Ornette (FMR) includes three numbered “Dialogue(s) for Ornette” – just over 50 minutes of music, recorded live at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis in June 2015 – plus two very different “Quantum Illusion” improvisations – another 22 minutes of music captured three months later in Rio. At the Bimhuis Weston plays a grand piano; in Rio an electronic keyboard with a midi interface. The album features none of Coleman’s compositions, but Watts, in particular, obviously has the American very much in mind throughout the main set.
Watts’ alto apes Ornette’s twisty harmolodic licks only briefly, at the start of “Dialogue for Ornette 1” and occasionally thereafter, and as a player he’s more gregarious than Coleman was, his sound mapping just as convincingly, at times, to Dewey Redman, say, or even to Tim Berne. On piano, Weston is assertive but simpatico. As piano and sax play off each other in expansive, assertive mood, Weston’s playing is flinty, dynamic and occasionally boogie-bold and rolling. He mostly favours clean-struck, fluently sequenced notes, sounding the keyboard with steely determinacy. Watts propitiates in turn, engaging the piano with loquacious, quicksilver counterpoint, sometimes pushing phrases into sour, smeary textures over rare surges of thunderous pianism, more often mostly blowing freely squalling, soulful or spirited and lyrical spiels. It’s an effervescent, highly charged dialogue, and an urgent, imperative testimonial to a shared formative influence.
After the Bimhuis concert’s outward celebration of post-Coleman jazz freedoms, the “Quantum Illusion” pieces initially signal an introspective turn. At first it sounds like Weston is playing a grand piano, but then there’s a sudden switch to rounded 70s synth tones. The pace is initially slower, the duo’s interactions more circuitous and serpentine, but when “Quantum Illusion 1” heats up, Watts rips into John Zorn-like flurries of acerbic pinched harmonics, and Weston layers fulsome bell tones over deep sustains.
“Quantum Illusion 2” initially reverts to rolling chordal piano and alto sax testimonial, but while Watts continues to trace a serpentine course Weston gets playful, playing electronic keys with one hand and acoustic with the other, then engaging Watts in rapid and spritely keytronica. Watts, heavily reverb’d, comes back with outré responses, occasionally engaging in circular breathing to maintain note density. It’s edge-of-the-seat, edge-of-abstraction stuff, but concludes in a dark and brooding place.
The two sets collected here are as distinct from each other as either of them are from 2011’s more free-ranging Dialogues in Two Places, or any of the duo’s earlier meetings come to that. Whenever these two interlocutors get together they’ve always got new things to chew over, and it’s always a joy to listen in.
Trevor Watts saxophones; Veryan Weston keyboards.
Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston – Dialogues in Two Places.
Veryan Weston, Jon Rose, Hannah Marshall – Tuning Out: Pieces for Tracker Action Organs and Strings.
Trevor Watts – Veracity.
Trevor Watts String Ensemble – Cynosure.
Buy Dialogues for Ornette direct from FMR.