In his liner notes to Trevor Watts & the Celebration Band, music reviewer John Wickes writes that some have described Watts' music as minimalist, although the British saxophonist had not even heard Steve Reich and other practitioners of that style when the minimalist comparisons started to be made. It's easy to understand why Watts might grimace at being called a minimalist, while on the other hand -- particularly after hearing his 2001 CD with the Celebration Band -- it's also easy to grasp why at least some of his music might be tagged with that stylistic description. On the anti-minimalist side of the debate, Watts and his young bandmembers from the Hastings, England area perform music that is far more joyous than the mechanistic repetitions of minimalism's founders. On the other hand, there certainly is common ground in the unfolding polyrhythmic complexity, counterpoint layering of melodic instruments, and precision with which the pieces fit together to form an intricate musical puzzle. This is actually a well-balanced hybrid, but anyone hearing the CD might be too busy dancing around like crazy to waste time musing about genre distinctions anyway. Of course, Watts has spent about 20 years melding jazz and world music in the various incarnations of his Moiré Music ensembles. A strong thread in the Moiré weave is Watts' particular love of African musics, also a taproot for Reich and the minimalists. With Trevor Watts & the Celebration Band, the African connection is strong and sustained -- one hears echoes from Nigerian juju and the gnawa rhythms of Morocco, as bright harmonies and melodies are punched out by the four-saxophone front line over a foundation of complex polyrhythms played on percussion instruments including djarabouka, djembe, and Moroccan tabla in addition to drum kit.
But where Moiré developed into a vehicle for the freewheeling improvisations of Watts and bassist Colin McKenzie, the Celebration Band tilts more heavily toward composition, with structures that can provoke dance and induce trance in nearly equal measure. As electric bass, keyboard, and guitar form their own patterns that interlock with the percussionists, the saxophonists spin out seemingly endless variations of melodies and riffs, calling back and forth, overlapping one another, moving forward and back in the mix. The composing and arranging is truly ingenious, making the octet seem like a much larger band; in fact, there was very little overdubbing involved. It's not all thoroughly charted, however, as Watts on alto and soprano and Rob Leake on tenor saxophone sail over the top with fluid and fiery solos. And yet, one remains most amazed by the lengths to which Watts pushes his compositions; opening track "8 in 7" (eight musicians playing music with seven-beat measures) stretches out past 13 minutes and is never less than riveting as it runs Watts' circle from African jazz through organic, hypnotic minimalism and back again. "In the Street" distills the core formula down to a three-minute-and-45-second track that would seem capable of uniting the globe in dance if released as a single worldwide. And yes, this is the same Trevor Watts who began making a name for himself as a relative youngster in John Stevens' avant-garde Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Isn't youth supposed to be the time for parties and dancing, and maturity the time to get serious? Somebody forgot to tell Watts; he's got it all backwards.