Spontaneous Music Ensemble, John Stevens, Trevor Watts

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Krentz Ratings:
Challenge (1966), 6/10
Withdrawal (1967), 7/10
Summer (1967), 6.5/10
Karyobin (1968), 7/10
Prayer for Peace (1969), 5.5/10
For You to Share (1970), 6/10
The Source (1970), 6.5/10
So Do What You Think (1970), 7/10
Birds of a Feather (1971), 5.5/10
Quintessence I (1973), 5.5/10
Face to Face (1973), 5/10
Mouthpiece (1973), 7/10
Bare Essentials (1973), 6/10
Frameworks (1973), 6/10
Play Blackwell and Higgens (1973), 5.5/10
Innovations (1974), 5/10
Quintessence II (1974), 5/10
SME += SMO (1975), 5.5/10
Away (1975), 5.5/10
Plus Equals (1975), 5.5/10
Somewhere in Between (1976), 5.5/10
Mazin Enni (1976), 5.5/10
Cynosure (1976), 5.5/10
Another Time (1976), 5.5/10
Deep (1977), 5/10
Samanna (1977), 5/10
Mad (1977), 5.5/10
Low Profile (1977), 5.5/10
One for Two and Two Twos (1978), 5.5/10
Closer to You (1978), 5/10
Over the Rainbow (1979), 5.5/10
Wipe Out (1979), 5.5/10
In Concert (1981), 5.5/10
Trio and Triangle (1981), 5.5/10
First Detail (1982), 5/10
Detail (1983), 5.5/10
Detail at Club Seven (1982), 6/10
Hot and Cold Heroes (1991), 6/10
Blue Cat (1991), 5/10
New Cool (1992), 5.5/10
Hello Goodbye (1992), 5.5/10
A New Distance (1994), 6/10
Let's Keep Going (1994), 5.5/10
6 Dialogues (2001), 5.5/10
New Surfacing (2008), 6/10
5 More Dialogues (2011), 5/10
Dialogues in Two Places (2011), 5/10
Life and Music (2011), 5/10
At Ad Libitum (2012), 5/10
Veracity (2014), 5/10

The Spontaneous Music Ensemble was formed in 1965 by British drummer John Stevens and saxophonist Trevor Watts with the intent of creating a jazz version of the AMM avantgarde collective. In reality, after Challenge (march 1966), that featured Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn, Paul Rutherford on trombone, Trevor Watts on alto and soprano saxophone, bass and drums, the ensemble started playing music that was as free, chaotic and atonal as the music of AMM, but focused on the interplay instead of the contrasts.

The line-up of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble changed with every concert and every recording. The ensemble was a sextet with Evan Parker on saxophones, Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rutherford on trombone, Watts on oboe and alto, Barry Guy on bass and Stevens on percussion for the four-movement film soundtrack Withdrawal (october 1966). Withdrawal (march 1967), released only in 1997, added Derek Bailey on dissonant guitar for the three Withdrawal Sequences and the four-movement chamber suite Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colors. Summer '67 (august 1967), released in 1996, contained the 15-minute First Cousins, a duet between bassist Peter Kowald and Stevens, and the eleven-minute Second Cousins, a trio with Parker.

The double-disc Question And Answer 1966 (2021) collects a live (june 1966) and a studio (august 1966) performance of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, i.e. Trevor Watts (alto sax), Bruce Cale (bass), John Stevens (drums and glockenspiel) and Paul Rutherford (trombone).

The unreleased Willow Trio (october 1967) was a lengthy improvisation by Parker (on soprano), Stevens and bassist Barre Phillips, and the unreleased Familie (january 1968) was recorded by Stevens, Watts, Parker, Bailey, bassist Dave Holland and several others.

The jazz component had all but disappeared by the time that Stevens, Wheeler, Parker, Bailey and bassist Dave Holland recorded the six-movement Karyobin (february 1968), perhaps the ensemble's artistic peak. Oliv (february 1969) contained the 19-minute Oliv I for a larger cast (Stevens, Wheeler, Bailey, Watts, bassist John Dyani, vocalist Maggie Nichols and more) and the 16-minute Oliv II for just Stevens, Watts, Dyani and Nicols. For You To Share (may 1970) contained two lengthy duets by Stevens and Watts, Peace Music and For You To Share. Another milestone, The Source - From And Towards (november 1970), was a five-movement suite for three saxophones (including Watts), trumpet (Wheeler), two trombones, piano, two basses and drums (Stevens).

Spontaneous Music Ensemble's drummer John Stevens, altoist Trevor Watts and bassist Barry Guy also joined bassist Jeff Clyne and formed Amalgam, documented on Prayer For Peace (may 1969).

SME's So What Do You Think (january 1971) boasted the classic quintet of Stevens, Watts, Wheeler, Bailey and Holland in one lengthy improvisation. British vocalist Julie Tippetts fronted a quartet with Stevens and Watts on Birds of a Feather (july 1971).

Watts then joined Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers' Orchestra on Ode (april 1972) and remained with it until the 1990s.

In 1972 Trevor Watts (alto sax), Jeff Clyne (bass), Phil Seamen and John Stevens (drums), Stan Tracey (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Edward Tubby Hayes (tenor sax and flute) formed Splinters. A live performance, split into two lengthy improvisations, was collected on Split The Difference (may 1972). The three-disc set Inclusivity contains that concert as well as another lengthy live performance of september 1972, Live At Grass Roots.

A quintet with Parker, Bailey, Stevens and Watts was documented on Quintessence 1 (october 1973) and Quintessence 2 (february 1974), released in 1987. Face To Face (november 1973) was another Stevens-Watts duet. The 20-minute In Relationship to Silence and the 24-minute Mouthpiece on Mouthpiece (november 1973) documented Stevens' "compositions" for large ensemble, Stevens "devised" these pieces that the improvisers were free to bend at will. Stevens only imposed constraints on the improvisers' moves to make sure that they would participate and not alienate each other. In a sense, Stevens was working on a more humane natural of "harmony".

Other collaborations by Stevens' ensembles included Plus Equals (january 1975) and Low Profile (november 1977). Despite Stevens' involvements in other projects, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble continued to exist until his death.

Bare essentials 1972-3 documents live unreleased jams by John Stevens and Trevor Watts: In The Midlands (april 1973), Three extracts (october 1972), For Phil (september 1972), etc.

Frameworks collects three old unreleased Spontaneous Music Ensemble's performances: Familie Sequence (july 1968), featuring John Stevens (percussion), Norma Winstone (voice), Kenny Wheeler (fluegelhorn), Paul Rutherford (trombone) and Trevor Watts (bass clarinet), Quartet Sequence (april 1971), featuring Stevens, Julie Tippett (voice & guitar), Watts (soprano sax) and Ron Herman (double bass), and Flower (october 1973) by the duo of Stevens and Watts.

The double-album Bobby Bradford With John Stevens (july 1971) documents sessions John, Trevor Watts (alto and soprano saxes), Julie Tippett (vocals and guitar), Ron Herman (bass), and Bob Norden (trombone), including Stevens' 19-minute Rhythm Pieces.

One For Two And Two Twos (august 1978) documents a quartet with John Stevens (drum set & voice), Paul Rutherford (trombone & euphonium), Evan Parker (soprano & tenor saxes) and Barry Guy (double bass & electronics).

The Spontaneous Music Orchestra was first documented on SME + = SMO (january 1975), reissued as Plus Equals, that featured Lindsay Cooper (cello), Ian Brighton and Roger Smith (guitars), Trevor Watts and Evan Parker (soprano sax), etc. The Spontaneous Music Orchestra also released three more live albums: In Concert (may 1981), featuring Lol Coxhill (soprano sax) and Paul Rutherford (trombone), For You To Share (may 1970), and Mouthpiece (1973).

John Stevens released: the live Away (november 1975) with Peter Cowling on electric bass, Steve Hayton on electric guitar and Trevor Watts on alto sax; Somewhere in Between (june 1976) with Nick Stephens (electric bass), Ron Herman (acoustic bass), Robert Calvert (soprano and tenor saxes), David Cole (electric guitar), Br‚no T'fordo (percussion) and John Martyn (vocals and guitar); and Mazin Enni (october 1976) with the same lineup except for Terry Quaye replacing T'fordo on percussion.

Trevor Watts' String Ensemble featuring Dave Cole & Steve Hayton on guitars, Steve Donachie on violin, Sandy Spencer on cello, Colin McKenzie on bass guitar, Lindsay Cooper on double bass and Liam Genockey on drums, is documented on the live Cynosure (june 1976).

The posthumous Trio & Triangle, an extension of the original In Concert (may 1981), documents live performances by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble & Orchestra, notably the 24-minute Triangle (may 1981).

The trio of Frode Gjerstad (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet and alto flute), Eivin One Pedersen (piano and keyboards) and John Stevens (drums) recorded First Detail (october 1982), credited to Detail.

Detail At Club 7 (september 1982 - Not Two, 2017) documents an unreleased performance by Detail, a project created by John Stevens (drums), Johnny Mbizo Dyani (bass), Frode Gjerstad (soprano & tenor saxes, bass clarinet) and Eivin One Pedersen (piano & ARP synth), a five-part 57-minute suite. Detail later released: Backwards And Forwards/Forwards And Backwards, Okhela «To Make A Fire» and First Detail (all recorded in october 1982); Ness (july 1986) with the addition of Bobby Bradford on cornet, Courtney Pine on various reeds and Harry Beckett on trumpet; Way It Goes/Dance Of The Soul (july 1986); In Time Was (july 1986) with Bobby Bradford; Less More (recorded between may 1989 and october 1990) with Ken Carter on bass and Billy Bang on violin; and Last Detail - Live At Cafe Sting (may 1994).

Let's Just Keep Going (april 1994), a duet with on which saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, documents the last studio recording by John Stevens.

Stevens died in 1994.

Trevor Watts recorded the solo album Veracity (june 2014).

The double-disc Away/Somewhere in Between/Mazin Ennit (BGO, 2015) restored those three Stevens recordings.

New Surfacing (1978/92) (2008) collects Spontaneous Music Ensemble rarities such as the 23-minute Newcastle 78B (november 1978) and the 32-minute Complete Surfaces (august 1992). Hot & Cold Heroes (1980/91) contains another rarity, the 28-minute Boileau Road (march 1980). New Cool (1992) (august 1992) documents a live performance by Byron Wallen (trumpet & flugelhorn), Ed Jones (soprano & tenor saxes), Gary Crosby (double bass) & John Stevens (drum set) in Crawley Jazz Festival performance. The live Hello Goodbye (1992) (october 1992) featured the trio of Frode Gjerstad (alto sax), Derek Bailey (amplified guitar) and John Stevens (percussion & mini-trumpet). Another rarity, A New Distance (1993-4) (may 1994), contains the 25-minute Stig recorded by Stevens (percussion & pocket trumpet), Roger Smith (guitar) and John Butcher (soprano & tenor saxes).

Meanwhile, Watts continued Amalgam with different lineups: Another Time (july 1976), with Pete Cowling (bass), Liam Genockey (drums) and Steve Hayton (guitar); Deep (november 1977), with Dave Cole on electric guitar, Harry Miller on contrabass and Liam Genockey on drums; the live Play Blackwell & Higgins (march 1972 and january 1973), with Stevens and Clyne; Innovation (november 1974), with bassists Kent Carter and Lindsay Cooper, Keith Tippet, and Stevens; Samanna (january 1977), with Genockey and Cole, plus bassists Colin McKenzie and Pete Cowling; Mad (recorded in 1977), with McKenzie, Genockey, and Dutch pianist Willem Kuhne; two live collaborations with guitarist Keith Rowe, namely Over The Rainbow (february 1979) and Wipe Out (november 1979); and Closer To You (may 1978) with only McKenzie and Genockey.

John Stevens' Amalgam, featuring Trevor Watts (on alto and soprano saxes), Liam Genockey (on drums), Keith Rowe (prepared guitar) and Colin McKenzie (bass), recorded the 56-minute The Yorkshire Suite (february 1979).

Watts also formed the Moire Music ensemble documented (in various lineups) on the live Trevor Watts' Moire Music (january 1985), Saalfelden Encore (october 1986), the live With One Voice (september 1988), and A Wider Embrace (april 1993). There was also a Moire Music Trio (march 1995) and a Moire Music Drum Orchestra, documented on the Live In Latin America Vol.1 (november 1990) and the other live Drum Energy (1989, released only in 2007). Watts also led The Celebration Band (april 2001), recorded the solo World Sonic (april 2005) and collaborated with Jamie Harris on Ancestry (recorded in 2004).

Frode Gjerstad on alto sax & clarinet, Johnny Mbizo Dyani on contrabass and John Stevens on drums recorded the four lengthy improvisations of Detail 83 (february 1983), released only 35 years later.

The Art Is In The Rhythm (november 1989) documents a collaboration between Trevor Watts (soprano and alto sax) and Liam Genockey (drums), a member of both Steeleye Span and of Elton Dean's Quintet, that yielded the 28-minute Rhythmic Variants and the 25-minute Echoes Of Bird.

Collaborations between Watts and pianist Veryan Weston (of Lol Coxhill's fame) are documented on 6 Dialogues (november 2001), 5 More Dialogues (march 2011), Dialogues in Two Places (september 2011), and the live At Ad Libitum (october 2013).

Life & Music collects various sessions recorded between 2005 and 2011.

Blue Cat (june 1991) was recorded by Bobby Bradford (cornet), Frode Gjerstad (alto sax), Kent Carter (acoustic bass) and John Stevens (drums).

The Trevor Watts Quartet with Veryan Weston on piano, John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums debuted on The Real Intention (september 2019).

The Lockdown Solos (may 2020) were recorded during the covid pandemic.

The five-disc boxset A World View collects various projects. The Empty Bottle (september 2000) documents sessions with the Moiré Music Group, arranged by bassist Colin McKenzie. Enjambre Acustico Urukungolo (2000-05) documents collaborations with Gibran Cervantes. Radio Lugano Broadcast (november 1996) documents live performances with the Moiré Music Drum Orchestra. Trevor Watts & Jamie Harris (2004-06) contains duets with Urukungolo’s percussionist Jamie Harris. Mark Hewins & Trevor Watts (2014) contains duets with Gong's guitarist Mark Hewins.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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