After the breathtaking beauty of his album "Beauty drifting" (1996), it seemed to me that Kit Watkins had disappeared from the surface of the earth. It would take four long years before he released another album. "The unseen" which was released in 2000 by mp3.com (songs in standard CD format and MP3 format), included material he recorded between 1996 and 1999 at his home studio. With "Rolling curve" (2000) his music developed more and more into ambient soundscapes in which he also uses environmental recordings. With those environmental recordings he experimented already back in 1993 with the album "Circle". He seems to catch up with his low output of the previous years. In the year 2001 he released the three albums I am going to review now, and this year he already released three albums under the name Tone Ghost Ether. An ensemble formed by Kit Watkins, Brad Allen and John Tlusty who recorded tracks completely created through improvisation. But those albums we will review after the interview Kit promised to me.
Most readers will know Kit from his younger years when he was part of the now legendary band Happy The Man. Also he played on some albums and tours of Camel. The first and only time I did see Kit performing live was at a Camel concert back in 1981. The only reason I mention this fact is that Kit didn't perform live for more than 20 years. So the three live albums we are going to talk about are only for this reason very special ones. Forget those bands of the past. The most of those so-called progressive bands are not progressive at all they are more retro. The music of Kit Watkins is always "on the move". It has developed from sympho/prog to electronic and ambient soundscapes, which are at the moment influenced by world music. So I think the music of Kit Watkins is more progressive than most of the bands we are reviewing in progVisions.
The reason I review these three albums in a single review is because they are all linked together by the fact that they are recorded on the same evening and the following night. The first two, "The Gathering - Set 1" and "The Gathering - Set 2" are the recordings of a complete performance at St. Mary's Church, Philadelphia on March 10,2001. His first concert in 20 years! "Music for the end" was recorded live on "Star's End" radio show, March 11, 2001 between 2:00 and 3:00 AM.
After Chuck van Zyl's (Star's End radio) introduction, "Morning mothra" (8:39) is the first track of "The Gathering - Set 1". Because of the tasteful intro with percussion the performance on this album is three minutes longer than the one on the album "The unseen". The main melody is very beautiful and played on an electronic wind instrument and lies on top of several percussion and synth loops. The wind instrument gives Kit the opportunity to play more passionate and he can bring all his emotion into the music. It is amazing how much feeling Kit can bring into his music. Electronic music often becomes dry and mechanic, but Watkins proofs it is possible to create warm electronic soundscapes.
"The aftermath of neglect" (12:02) is a slow piece with percussion and an environmental loop with sounds of crickets and an owl. The solo instrument now sounds like a combination of a trumpet and a flute. The trumpet sound sometimes reminds me of Mark Isham. In "Melrose cavern" (7:03) Kit plays a beautiful melody on top of a typical Watkins piano loop. The atmosphere with the piano reminds me of the most beautiful Happy The Man pieces. You must hear this track yourself. It is so beautiful. Years ago I fell in love with this kind of music, and trough the years Kit's music has become more intense and passionate.
After this beautiful piece follows another incredible piece. "The upper regions of space" (19:18) has again that trumpet sound ala Isham. I talk now about Isham's early period when he made the score of the film "Mrs. Soffel". I am a big fan of Mark Isham's music but sorry for Mark, the music of Kit is more delicate and has more warmth. After six minutes of slow and beautiful melodies we hear samples with the sounds of water and the music gets more rhythm. I don't know what kind of percussion instruments he uses but he uses everything in a very delicate way. The music also becomes a little more experimental and spacey. Nineteen minutes of music is very long for a single track. But amazingly it becomes never boring. There is so much happening. And on the other hand the music is very peaceful and relaxed. Last track of this first set is "Tone 10" (8:34) and this piece sounds dark, spooky and mysterious. Slowly the tension is building up while Kit is playing a long solo with a mixed trumpet/synth sound.
"The Gathering - Set 2" starts also with a song from "The Unseen" album. This time it is "Evening mothra" (6:00) a nice slow opener of this second set of another complete hour of Kit Watkins music. Delicate piano sounds with a sax like solo. I love to listen to this music after a stressful working day. The music has a kind of healing effect for me. Next is one of the longer tracks called "The metamorphosis of truth" (10:53). Again I hear some Isham references but that is only because Kit's electronic wind instrument sounds like a delicate trumpet. He uses some environmental recordings to get from one theme to the other. It starts again with some nice electronic percussion before the next solo begins. The atmosphere of the music is mainly very relaxed.
"The infinity of three" (9:39) has a great percussion loop as a background layer for the music. On top of it Kit is not only playing his electronic wind instrument solos but also other percussion instruments. The trumpet sound reminds me again of Isham. The percussion instruments make this piece very interesting. The atmosphere brings memories of Tibet to my mind. And the strange thing is that I have never been in Tibet! In your mind you can float away on Kit's music to foreign cultures. The beautiful piano sounds are in the next piece "Angels we have known" (4:38) combined with the trumpet like sound. This beautiful track I would like to describe as a developed "Labyrinth & Happy The Man" song.
"Song for Russia" (9:10) starts with a beautiful piano intro and is followed by strings, which forms the underlying layer of an amazing melody on his wind instrument before the piano returns. This track is maybe the best piece I ever have heard from Kit Watkins. Beautiful delicate melodies played with a lot of passion. You can hear that the audience is completely moved by this piece. Those people who were present on this gig have witnessed a very special evening. "The parting of ways" (6:49) is the last track of this second set. After the slow opening this piece has some rhythmic percussion. This piece gets a little more powerful but the solo with the beautiful melodies keeps the track as delicate as the other tracks. The encore of this historic evening in Philadelphia is a piece called "The soft caress of freedom" (12:25). It is amazing for me to here what kind of music a single musician can make on a stage surrounded by his percussion instruments, some keyboards, samplers and an electronic wind instrument.
I am very impressed by this performance of Kit. After twenty years of studio work he meets at last his audience and gives them an evening they will never forget. This is a recording of an historic evening. The music is delicate and full with beautiful melodies. If you have ever bought a Kit Watkins album in the past and liked it, this "The Gathering set 1 & 2" is an absolutely must.
For Kit Watkins this was not the end of a fine evening. Following "The Gathering" performance he put some of his gear in the radio station and played for the "Star's End" program of Chuck van Zyl another set between 2:00 and 3:00 AM live in the studio. These recordings are released under the name Music for the end and include two long ambient improvisations in which he uses environmental field recordings, synth pads and an electronic wind controller. The first part counts 30:04 and the second one 29:54 minutes. When you listen to this you are floating through your room and through space. Listen to it after midnight before you go to sleep. You will be happy and relaxed the next morning.
All three albums are released on mp3.com. They release special CD's on which the songs are in the standard CD format and in MP3 format. So you can play them on your computer, MP3 CD player or any stereo system. A multimedia interface appears when you play it on your computer.
Since his "Labyrinth" album (1981) I have followed the career of Kit Watkins. His beautiful melodies and sounds have always intricated me. But after "Beauty drifting" I lost contact. Last Whitsunday I found his new website http://www.KitWatkins.com and send him an email. Because Kit Watkins has a special place in my musical heart, I asked him if he was interested in a review and interview with progVisions to introduce our readers to his last solo works. He told me that he isn't interested anymore in the prog scene and I understand his point of view. Most progressive bands are playing not progressive music but more a kind of retro. After talking about the meaning of the word progressive a lot of emails followed and I am very glad he gave me the opportunity to listen to his last works. A whole new world was opening for me. As a musician he developed a lot. And with him his music. I would like to dare the progVisions readers to take notice of the music of this man. Be open minded (progressive) and give yourself the opportunity to discover the beautiful world of Kit's music. I am looking forward to do that interview with Kit. So, stay tuned to progVisions!