Schuba’s is a tasteful but thoroughly unpretentious music club/restaurant in/near the Lakeview/Wrigglyville section of Chicago very good live sound quality, very good food that usually hosts alternative/indie rock, folk and country sounds. But they’re branching out into this odd thing called "jazz music," and this past Sunday night, Schuba’s was the host to the Chicago debut of one of the grand-daddies of the UK avant-garde jazz/free-improv scene. British alto saxophonist Trevor Watts has established his rep with Derek Bailey, Julie Tippets and John Stevens as well as his own groups his latest, The Celebration Band, departs from the "free" sound-style that put him on the proverbial map for a organized sound based on the African music that Watts loves.
Watts is touring with the same 8-person band on his swell 2001 CD The Celebration Band (Arc): 2 tenor saxes, two alto (almost all doubling on soprano), electric guitar, electric bass, drums, percussion. They played with a inspired amalgam (hey, that’s the name of an old Watts band, too) of the unified precision of a Woody Herman big band, the bubbling, kinetic simmer of King Sunny Ade’s Nigerian juju, the genial audaciousness of early fusion outfits (like fellow Brits Soft Machine) and the sanctified, bright, gospel-inflected melodiousness of South African township music. Watts’ Celebration Band plays music of interlocking patterns, superficially similar to the minimalism of composer Steve Reich (partially inspired by the music of Ghana) and Malian music the saxes play riffs and melodic variations that engage in call-and-response, that intertwine and overlap. Throughout the night’s performance, the saxophones shone most brightly, swinging madly and surging strong as Woody’s band at their various peaks if fact, some passages recalled the dramatic "crime jazz" of Herman arranger Neal Hefti. The usual jazz "formula" of theme/solo/solo/theme was not in evidence, though to be sure, everybody got to wail their jazz joyously. The TWCB’s music was/is richly and immediately melodic as well as ebulliently polyrhythmic and they made with some unexpected surprises, as guitarist Geoff Sapsford intro’d a couple tunes with biting garage rock-styled licks (one a la Nirvana’s hit "Teen Spirit"). Unfortunately, the TWCB did not play to a large crowd perhaps the Cubs being poised on the brink of Baseball History had something to do with it but the band did not let that deter them from delivering one of the finest live performances of any genre I’ve seen this year. If you’ve the chance, they are a must-see.