Saxophonist Trevor Watts first gained renown in the British free improvisation scene as a key member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble during the 1960s and '70s, and he moved from acoustic free jazz to a unique form of electric creative music in his group Amalgam during the latter decade -- but during the '80s to the beginning of the new millennium Watts devoted most of his energies as a bandleader to his various Moiré Music projects, which melded jazz with multi-layered African rhythms and counterpoint. The ensemble performing on Live at the Athens Concert Hall is one of the last incarnations of these projects; the group's precursors included the ten-piece Moire Music formed in 1982 and the subsequent Moire Music Trio and seven-piece Moire Music Drum Orchestra. Five out of six tracks here were recorded in February 1998 at the Concert Hall in Athens, Greece, and feature Watts on alto and soprano saxophone, Scottish electric bassist Colin McKenzie, London drummer Marc Parnell, and percussionists Ali Iaazane from the Gnawa Berber tradition of Morocco and Nana Tsiboe from Ghana. The eighth and final track, "Mrs. Robinson," was recorded in Beijing in November 1999 and includes Watts, McKenzie, and Iaazane together with drummer Greg Leppard and percussionists Paapa J Mensah from Ghana and Roberto Pia from Colombia.
Watts and McKenzie have joint writing credits for the album's compositions, and it is clear from "Seamless," the opening tune, that the reedman and bassist had formed a strong musical bond from their on-again, off-again partnership spanning nearly a quarter century. McKenzie, with a bright tone and funky execution, first lays down a repeating line in lockstep with the drummer and percussionists as the rhythm section churns persistently beneath Watts' alto sax. As the tune progresses, however, sax and bass move together and break apart, with McKenzie darting upward to join Watts in unison melodic statements before sliding back down into the rolling vamp. Watts and McKenzie dance about one another in this fashion throughout much of the CD, and it is a joy to hear. Meanwhile, a wide variety of rhythms and tempos are explored. "Tribute to Don Cherry" begins with wistful, unaccompanied soprano saxophone but, after some tight rhythmic stops and starts, segues into an incendiary jam with the percussionists in manic overdrive. "Gentle Love" reveals the band's more subdued side; the tune is a pretty ballad with some comparatively understated soprano from Watts and a soulful vocal by Tsiboe. "Indian Hills" is one of the CD's most powerful tracks, an uptempo and funky barnburner with robust alto sax and more blistering work from McKenzie and the hard-charging percussion team. The responses of the Athens and Beijing audiences captured on the recording demonstrate that the vibrant and joyful Moire Music Group easily appealed to separate cultures thousands of miles apart. Trevor Watts and company discovered commonality in far-flung musical traditions, and the music heard here is both a celebration and a unifying force.