The first thing one notices on the front cover of The Deep Blue is the artist name: "Trevor Watts." Not Trevor Watts' Moir‚ Music Group, not Trevor Watts & the Celebration Band, not Trevor Watts and anybody. This is Watts alone, and so perhaps it's akin to his 2005 CD of solo saxophone improvisations, World Sonic. But the back cover lists instrumentation of saxophones, percussion, piano, and synthesizer, so something else is going on here. Yes, Watts has multi-tracked himself on all those instruments; The Deep Blue is a singular entry in his catalog -- essentially an entire band full of Trevors. And The Deep Blue doesn't focus on the "free jazz" side of Watts' oeuvre; he is in Moir‚ and Celebration Band world groove mode here, as titles like "Ghana Bop," "Mama Rhumba's," "Highlands & Islands," and "The Moir‚ Principle" suggest. The difference is that Watts does not perform these pieces in the context of a multicultural band that speaks With One Voice; he speaks with one voice, period. And he manages all the instruments quite nicely all by his lonesome.
Of course, Watts' saxophone virtuosity is without question. He might also pick up a darbuka or cabassa and join in with his percussionists now and then, but you are unlikely to find a synthesizer in his performing and recording credits until now. Frankly, the multi-layered constructions underlying Watts' winding and spiraling saxophone lines on The Deep Blue don't require jaw-dropping keyboard skills -- Watts plays short phrases in ostinatos and vamps to create a Moir‚-like fabric, along with chordal fills and interlocking sax riffage, over which to improvise. With timbres often mirroring the warmth of their organic counterpoints in the "real" world, the synths are driven by what sounds like a roomful of diverse percussion instruments, crisp and clean enough to suggest the possibility of electronic shenanigans. The rhythmic results are deep and complex yet uncluttered, all the better to give his saxophones -- whether harmonizing in the middle of an arrangement or flying freely above -- the room for full expression.
Although the dynamics of a full band playing music like this would be difficult if not impossible for one man to capture through studio multi-tracking, Watts' meticulous layering on The Deep Blue does produce some exuberant results, particularly late in the program with the gradual, insinuating buildup of "The Moir‚ Principle," climbing stealthily to a high-energy plateau from nearly fragmented beginnings; the upbeat and jaunty "Ghana Bop," packing a highly danceable punch into a comparably quick-changing four-plus minutes; and the concluding "Mama Rhumba," mysterious, ever-changing, and truly organic-sounding as the saxes unfurl across a foundation heavier on piano than synths. Ultimately (and pardon the mixed metaphors), The Deep Blue effectively stitches together the threads of a career that has literally been all over the map, even if Trevor Watts kicked all the other musicians out of the room before pushing the record button this time. ~ Dave Lynch