Friday, March 13, 2009

Jeff "Tain" Watts - Watts (Dark Key, 2009)

Drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and colleagues Branford Marsalis on tenor and soprano saxophones, Terence Blanchard on trumpet and Christian McBride on bass make some righteous full bodied hard bop on this album that at times seems to recall the spirit of Charles Mingus with the strong blues and gospel based uptempo playing, and acerbic social commentary. Watts and company are at their best on the highest tempos, showing incredible skill on the high wire acts called "Return of the Jitney Man" and "Dancin' 4 Chicken." After the false start intro on "Chicken", the band really takes flight with Marsalis achieving a full rich and deep tenor sound and Blanchard's trumpet accents are pungent and thoughtful. Branford's soprano sax still does not appeal to me, to me his sound is limpid and arty, and sucks the life out of the lone ballad called "Owed..." But on the Michael Brecker tribute "Brecky With Drecky" and on the other performances throughout this disc, his tenor saxophone simply shines. The group experiments with social commentary on "Devil's Ringtone: The Movie" but while their anger is understandable, the spoken word overwhelms an excellent musical performance, and the version of the song without the dialogue, "The Devil's Ringtone" included as a bonus track at the end of the disc is much more effective. Despite a few stumbles, this was an enjoyable album from a very strong group. Playing without a pianist or guitarist to add texture asks a lot from the members of the quartet, and for the most part they respond very well, making exciting music.
Watts -

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