PLAY IT STRAIGHT
Marzette Watts Group
The Marzette Watts Ensemble
Savoy : 1969
Lonely Woman: MW, tenor sax; Patty Waters, vox; Bobby Few, piano; George Turner, cornet; Marty Cook, trombone; Cevera Jeffries, bass; Steve Tintweiss, bass; Tom Berge, drums. Play It Straight: MW, tenor sax; Bill Dixon, piano; Juney Booth, bass; J.C. Moses, drums. Octobersong: same as Lonely but add Frank Kipers, violin; Amy Sheffer, vox.
Chilly Jay Chill: Make no mistake: This is a SUPER RARE one!
Prof. Drew LeDrew: Many folks may be familiar with Marzette Watts for his 1966 session for ESP which has remained in print more than many avant offerings. The title of that album and this one are pretty similar, but don’t get it twisted.
CJC: This is the later Savoy session from 1969. You could only buy this one with hen’s teeth. Blue hen’s teeth.
DLD: This platter was hyped by Thurston Moore in his “Top 10 From the Free Jazz Underground” list way back in the Grand Royal days. The more you know about out jazz, the more impressive that list gets. These tracks prove he was right again. If it isn’t quite an immortal masterpiece, it’s seriously interesting music.
CJC: Let’s start with “Lonely Woman.” Gotta say that in principle I cannot stand vocalese. In general, adding lyrics to instrumental masterpieces ought to be considered vandalism.
DLD: I think lyrics risk making the abstract beauty of a piece too concrete, you know? I still can’t get Joni Mitchell’s lyrics out of my head every time I hear “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.” And I don’t mean that as a compliment.
CJC: So normally adding words to an Ornette tune would constitute some sort of art crime. But maybe because the singer is the great Patty Waters, they miraculously pull it off. It helps that the lyrics aren’t obtrusive. Plus Patty’s hushed delivery makes the overall vibe spooky rather than show-offy.
DLD: In some ways the vocalese is in keeping with the overall sound of the original. The lonely woman, and all that. It actually adds a strong emotional component.
CJC: In some alternate universe, this could’ve been a hit! Reissued today and played at midnight after a few drinks, it could even pass for a standard.
DLD: Maybe that depends on what you’re drinking. Let’s move on to “Play It Straight.” More Ornette. This tune was originally recorded – but not released – as part of the 1962 Town Hall show.
CJC: Love how this starts out kind of straight but it’s subtly undermined throughout. The rhythm section is doing… wha? It manages to feel like post-bop and avant at same time, like one mode was simply laid atop the other, superimposition stylee.
DLD: Overall on the disc Marzette melds the Ornette with the Ayerlite, combining two threads of the ESP sound.
CJC: One of the things that strikes me about this album is its ambition. The colors and tones invoked, the use of vocals, the deft arranging for large and small ensembles. It’s hardly a blowing session, though there is some of that too. Quite nuanced, really.
DLD: No doubt at least some of the nuance is due to Bill Dixon’s presence. He produces. And even plays piano. Plus “Octobersong” is a Dixon composition, which debuted on this album.
CJC: That’s probably the most ambitious piece here. More abstract vocalese strategically intertwined with a larger ensemble that includes strings. It has a nice fall breeze vibe. Though I’m not completely convinced it all gels.
DLD: I dig it. The way the vocals are smeared against the instruments strikes me as painterly, which is appropriate given Marzette was a great visual artist as well as musician. This was also the first track on the album. A strong statement of intent.
CJC: Too bad more people weren’t listening. Today, Marzette seems like one of the major lost figures of this music and the period.
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STAY TUNED! Next week we’re kicking off a month-long celebration of the music of Anthony Braxton with our biggest-ever contest giveaway — a virtual mosaic of essential 1970s jazz. Trust us, you won’t want to miss this!