Acoustic double-bass player Blue Armstrong of Dillon and Heath Watts, a sax player and Butte native, deliver a recorded session encompassing 10 jazz works that are extemporaneous forays into pitch, theme, and dexterity. Both may sound familiar from their stints with Montana jazz mavens Alex Swaney and M.J. Williams, among others.
The album title comes from something painter Wassily Kandinsky once said: “The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes …” Well, Wassily, check that. Someone has done it.
The duo’s synergy amid cacophony derives from each listening intently to the other, and reacting quickly to new concepts, Watts says. They’ve splashed their canvas with kaleidoscopic elements that defy conventions of melody, meter, and tonal frequency. Pushing boundaries and breaking conventions, they jam wildly on different wavelengths, then briefly hint at resolution as they share almost-melodies.
All the while, they demonstrate dazzling technique that conjures vivid images. Watts’s breath control and intonation on the soprano saxophone are monumental; he’s anchored by Armstrong’s masterful, deep bass lines and crackerjack fretwork.
In “From One Extreme to Unspecified,” Armstrong bows the bass to create bell-like overtones; he follows by thrumming percussively. Watts enters, his Twilight-Zone-y sax flirting with arpeggio tri-tones; then he plays two tones simultaneously. Yowza!
In “Moment of Asking,” Armstrong’s bass booms out a riff, tiptoeing like a rubber band. The sax morphs into what, a creaking iron door? A soft foghorn?
”On the Outside from Within” finds Armstrong bowing stealthily, Fantasia-esque. And is Watts drinking a glass of water while channeling Stan Getz for a few moments? Or conversing with geese, spastically warbling and chattering in crisp pinpoints of sound? How can this be only two instruments?
There’s much more here. This freewheeling quadrant of jazz is not for the faint of heart; the pieces will blow listeners’ ears and leave aficionados agog.
Visit the duo at heathwatts.com.
– Mariss McTucker