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NEVER WAS a group as immediately likable as Bobby Watson and Horizon. The five musicians strode out on stage at Artpark-at-the-Church with easy smiles.

They went on to whip up enough heat to torch the place.

Like many a storm, it began with a whisper. Pianist Stephen Scott played spare chords, and trumpeter Terell Stafford was muted. Even famed drummer Victor Lewis held back.

Gradually, the fog lifted. Horizon is aptly named; their atmosphere changes as subtly as the sky. Thus Scott, who began in the heavy-handed style of Thelonious Monk, lightened to a boisterous cheer. Lewis was a delight, dazzling us with a cornucopia of clangs, crashes, booms and odd knocks.

The polished, affable Watson presided with virtuosity and verve. When he picked up his alto sax, his whole body moved with his music.

Watson's hair is sprinkled with white, and his benevolent attitude makes him seem older than his 39 years. While his colleagues solo, Watson stands aside, listening enthusiastically. He has a habit of turning and smiling at the audience, to see if we're getting the joke.

He can make his sax croon, laugh, yip and crow. His duets with the trumpet were stunning, as Stafford, mute in hand, replied with growls and groans.

There were some introspective moments. "I Got It Bad" moved with a sultry longing worthy of Duke Ellington, and sweet sadness graced "Like It Was Before," a wistful ballad composed by Watson's wife.

The second set lurched forward with a raunchy "Happy Birthday" to Victor Lewis. Scott shone in a Thelonious Monk tribute with the outrageously punning title "Monk He See, Monk He Do."

Jokes were never far away.

During dead air, while Lewis adjusted his drums, pianist Scott played, and then ragged, Chopin's funeral march.

The calm, charming Watson was close behind. "Those are some animal sounds," he said after cooing and clucking into the mike.

He paused. "I guess you guys don't have much sense of humor since the Bills lost," he accused. "Music's not like sports," he added after some reflection. "The older we get, the better we get."

Lucky for us.

Bobby Watson and Horizon

Young jazz lions.

Thursday at Artpark-at-the-Church, Plain and South Fourth Streets, Lewiston. Repeated tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.

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