Four of Montana’s premier jazz artists came together to create an album of fearless free improvisation, and Sensoria is the result. The group is comprised of Dillon’s Heath Watts, soprano saxophone and voice; Butte’s Blue Armstrong, acoustic double-bass, and Basin residents M.J. Williams, trombone, piano, melodica and voice; and Nancy Owens, violin. The musicians collectively wrote most tracks, except for “Kif-kif,” by Watts and Owens, and “Time Release,” by Armstrong and Williams.
Free improvisation allows each artist to strip away most elements of jazz –structure, chord changes, tunefulness, and the like, and push the boundaries of dynamics, syncopation, tonal quality and musical adroitness. “Playing together” becomes a misnomer of sorts, as individuality reigns supreme. Yet, as the quartet bounces ideas off each other in this live, one-take recording, a certain synergy is created that coalesces on-the-spot concepts into a whole.
Except for interjected flashes of arrangement that adhere to each other as if attracted by a double-bass twang, a trombone blat, a jangling swoop of violin bow, or a breathy, high-pitched long tone from the sax, the players throw melody and harmony out the window. Four sets of ears and universal musical dexterity are turned loose to blip, bop, thwack, squeal, and blow raspberries of sorts. The music is dissonant, disjointed and loopy.
For example, there’s the syncopated hide-and-seek sounds of “Kif-Kif”; and in “Vim,” a hypnotic bleat from the “Twilight Zone”-y trombone dissolves into a cackling gaggle from the sax, as the asylum-bound violin and double-bass channel “Fantasia” on steroids. Each instrument darts in and out, playing with the beat in “Festooned,” then, as if on cue, they halt, then careen down a new path. This album is “out there.” Improv lovers should relish it!
– Mariss McTucker