Back in the 1970s, a mix of electric and acoustic instruments playing twisty heads and highly evolved improvised jams to hard-driving beats was called "jazz," or, more precisely and specifically to that decade, "jazz fusion." Its practitioners included such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Hubert Laws, Grant Green (toward the end of his career) and lots of others.
These days, that same kind of music goes by other names, presumably because the word "jazz" scares many folks away. But call it "jazz-influenced," "jam band," "groove oriented" or whatever, the roots of this species of music go directly back to Herbie and friends and the world of good, old-fashioned, hard-swinging, bebopping J-A-Z-Z.
The Motet of Boulder, Colo. - formerly known as the Dave Watts Motet, formerly known as the Dave Watts Band - plays just what I’m talking about. On their new live CD, Music of Life
, they lay down percussion-heavy grooves over which their talented soloists - guitarist Mark Donovan, saxophonists Dominic Sayers and Jon Stewart, and keyboardist Greg Raymond - play often screaming, always arresting leads. If I put Music of Life
on my disc changer with some mid-’70s discs by Herbie, Weather Report, Chick Corea, etc., I bet a lot of people wouldn’t be able to tell one apart from the other.
That speaks highly of The Motet, for all too many jazz-jam-influenced-oriented units sound hopelessly derivative and bland, the easy listening of the post-millennium hipster crowd. This is not to say that the eight live tracks on Music for Life
(six of which were written by drummer-leader Watts) are difficult to get into. Not at all. From the opening crash of the first tune, this disc is pure enjoyment, full of great heads, irresistible grooves, hot solos and a whole world of rhythms, all pulled off at a laid-back tempo. The band never shows off, though it has plenty of reasons to strut; one gets the feel that it’s just doing what comes naturally to it - making great, exciting, original party jazz.