Recent listening, current

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

164. Ernie Watts Quartet / Ernie Watts Quartet (1987)

This self-titled LP featuring Watts as the chief soloist is pretty hard to fault. Watts' craft and professionalism are what's on display here, and they are impressive to say the least. Watts is a diversely talented musician capable of playing with ease in a dizzying assortment of styles and settings, and this album does well to demonstrate his chops on tenor, alto, and soprano saxes while playing pop, hard bop, and the blues. By 1987, he had done extensive session work in Los Angeles that refined his technique from a streetwise hard bop sound to the razor edge of instinct and technical facility required for more specific demands as a hired horn. Side 1 opens with "Language of the Heart," a smooth pop tune that never strays far from the melody. But the next track is a mean slice of hard bop called "Continental Blues." The dramatic juxtaposition of these styles proclaims YES, this man will do both! Here and elsewhere, Watts switches from heavy lines in a tough tone to effervescent double-time eruptions of verbosity that probe the harmonic architecture of the changes. Even when he's on alto, Watts reminds me a lot of John Coltrane. I appreciate the group's thoughtful rendition of "Body and Soul," which is dedicated to Mr. Coltrane, and at 6:02 is also the longest track on the record. Pat Coil, whether driving the rhythm, comping, or interplaying intelligently with Watts, wins the prize for underrated sideman of the hour. Often, in the more predictable spots, his piano maintains my interest when the melody from Watts just isn't enough. Timekeeping Leatherbarrow and Dibartolo are also notable.

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