The mix is always changing for the Dave Watts Motet | AspenTimes.com

The mix is always changing for the Dave Watts Motet

Stewart Oksenhorn

The Boulder-based Dave Watts Motet has a far-ranging repertoire from which to choose. The combo puts its own spin on bebop classics, drums up Afro-Cuban rhythms and creates its own fusion tunes.

Much of that variety comes from the nature of the band. When drummer and bandleader Watts went casting about for a name for his outfit, he selected the purposely ambiguous name, Motet. That way, there were few expectations: If Watts showed up for a gig with a trio, that was the Motet for the night; if the next night six players came to jam, that too was a Motet. And no bar owner would be any the wiser.

Now, nearly two years after Watts formed Motet, the loose structure of the band remains, and serves more musical purposes. Watts shuttles in a host of different players – electric guitarists, keyboard players, vocalists, horn players – into Motet based on musician availability. For several gigs, the Motet featured a pair of female singers; for one recent night, Watts assembled four additional percussionists and a vocalist to focus on the music of Mali and Ghana. The endless shuffling allows the three steady members of the Motet – Watts, percussionist Scott Messersmith and bassist Matt Spencer – to absorb all sorts of sounds and styles and to expand their ears.

“It seems to be always a different combo, because we’re always working with people who are doing different stuff,” said Watts, who will be joined by Motet regulars Messersmith and Spencer, plus electric guitarist Ross Martin and keyboardist Jonathan Crayford, for its two-night stand at the Howling Wolf tonight and tomorrow. “We meet different people and different players and add them into the mix, and that always makes it different. With me, Scott and Matt, it’s more like a traveling rhythm section and we’re hiring melodic instrumentalists.”

The 31-year-old Watts has spent a lifetime absorbing influences. In Boston, where Watts lived for eight years before moving to Boulder, he attended the Berklee School of Music and also spent several years as drummer and lyricist for the funk-rock band Shockra. Since moving to Boulder, Watts has toured with the bluegrass-blues group the Tony Furtado Band and been part of the jazz-folk combo Skin.

Few experiences, however, have had as much of an impact on Watts as the weeks-long visit he and Messersmith made to Cuba last winter. “It opened my world up musically,” said Watts, who is planning a second Cuba sojourn this winter. “I saw music there that goes far beyond anything I’ve seen here.

“It’s music for spiritualism. It makes you realize the purpose for it. It goes beyond your ears to your body and soul. It’s deep, really deep, and it puts a perspective on why you’re doing it. They don’t have a lot materially, so it’s music that has to do a lot, to make them stronger.”

Watts is not in music for the money. For the most part, Motet plays complex instrumental music that is not likely to end up on commercial radio or sell tons of CDs. But Watts wants little more than to be able to continue what he is doing.

“It’s not pop music, that’s for sure,” said Watts. “It’s definitely not radio format music. But that’s not something I give too much thought to. It’s more a vision of how I want to live my life – living in a place I want, being able to spend time writing and working on my music. And to keep growing. That’s the main thing; that’s the ultimate for me.”

In a recent visit to the Aspen area, Watts was able to try out what he had learned in Cuba and to continue his musical expansion. The Motet was booked to perform as part of the JAS After Dark program at last month’s Jazz Aspen June Festival. Also on the bill were top Cuban acts Chucho Valds and Maraca y Otra Vision. Watts ended up jamming with the Cuban musicians, a high point for him.


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