British saxophonist Trevor Watts was well established in the free improvisation world as a member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble -- formed with trombonist Paul Rutherford and drummer John Stevens in 1965 -- when he decided to establish another band that would focus more directly on his compositions. Thus, Watts founded Amalgam in 1967, a group also including Rutherford as well as bassist Barry Guy. In contrast to the SME's characteristic post-Challenge collective improvisational approach,Amalgam's music was more melodic and pulse-driven, initially based on acoustic free jazz-style expression with thematic material composed byWatts.
However, AMM guitarist Keith Rowe would replace Kuhne in the next quartet lineup of Amalgam between 1978 and 1980. Watts later described this period -- documented by 1979's four-LP live box set Wipe Out on the Impetus label and that year's single-disc Over the Rainbow on Watts' Arc imprint -- as one of the group's most creative, particularly given the bandmembers' ability to find commonality of expression given their individual backgrounds in such diverse areas as free jazz, creative improvisation, blues, rock, funk, soul, and abstract sound art. Over the Rainbow would prove to be the final album from Amalgam, as Watts would disband the group after 13 years and move into the next phase of his career as a bandleader with the various Moiré Music ensembles -- including both Genockey andMcKenzie at various times -- beginning in the mid-'80s and continuing to the beginning of the new millennium. The aforementioned Amalgam albums originally released between 1969 and 1979 have all been reissued on CD in the 21st century by the FMR Records label.The following year's Another Time LP, released by the Vinyl Records label, signified the beginning of a new phase for Amalgam, as the group settled into a format of saxophone, electric guitar, electric bass, and drums, withWatts the only holdover from Amalgam's previous incarnations. On board were Welsh rock bassist Pete Cowling, guitarist Steve Hayton, and diverse Irish drummer Liam Genockey, who would remain in the Watts orbit for a number of years to come. On Another Time the group played an often high-energy form of electric jazz, bordering on jazz-rock but with a generally freer approach. This thread continued with 1977's Samanna, also released by Vinyl Records, which saw the electric Amalgam expand from a quartet to a quintet with the addition of a second electric bassist, the Scotland-born Colin McKenzie, like Genockey a musician who would perform and record with Watts on numerous future occasions. Electric guitar also remained prominent, with Steve Hayton replaced by newcomer Dave Cole. Samanna is noteworthy for its unique meld of Ornette Coleman & Prime Time-style free funk with the African-inspired circular rhythms explored by Watts' subsequent Moiré Music ensembles. Also released in 1977, the album Mad saw the band return to a quartet format with Watts, McKenzie, Genockey, and -- in a departure for the band during this period -- Willem Kuhne on electric piano rather than a guitarist.Amalgam proved to be an ever-changing entity from the start, and in fact, Rutherford was gone from the lineup by the time the group entered West London's Advision Studios in May 1969 to record debut disc Prayer for Peace, released that year on Transatlantic Records. Prayer for Peace was a saxophone trio set, withWatts' powerful alto cutting loose over the intuitive rhythm section of drummer Stevens and bassist Jeff Clyne (with Guy serving as bassist -- demonstrating his considerable arco skills -- on the elegiac title track).Innovation, released by Tangent Records in 1975, features some serious grooving by the Amalgam ensemble, this version featuring Watts andStevens joined by pianist Keith Tippett, bassists Lindsay L. Cooper andKent Carter, and Terry Quaye on congas (interestingly, Watts composed only one of the album’s five tracks, with the remainder composed by Stevens). AMG.
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