Sunday, July 05, 2020

Bobby Watson - Keepin' It Real (Smoke Sessions, 2020)

Coming out of his experience with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, alto saxophonist Bobby Watson formed a similar group called Horizon that recorded regularly and toured widely in the 1980’s and 90’s. This album introduces an updated version of the band, called New Horizon. Watson’s current band includes Josh Evans or Giveton Gelin on trumpet, Victor Gould on piano, Victor Jones on drums and Curtis Lundy on bass. “Condition Blue” opens the album with the tight horn section stating the theme, and Watson stepping out for a well articulated solo over a swinging rhythm section of comping piano, elastic bass and cymbal heavy drumming. Handing off to a bright and punchy trumpet interlude that keeps the sound fresh and buoyant, the horns drop out for the rhythm team to shine, playing with with excellent camaraderie, leading the full group back for a rousing conclusion. An older Lundy composition given a fresh coat of paint, “Elementary My Dear Watson 2020” is led by some urgent piano playing and tight ensemble work, laying out an intricate melody. A finely played trumpet solo breaks out, constructing a logical and well thought out solo, leading to the Watson’s tart and recognizable alto sound, carving up the heavier drumming and thick bass playing, leading to an admirable feature statement, soaring high and far. The piano, bass and drums unit simmers, playing very collectively as a trio feature, sounding like there is a three way mind meld happening. The horns return for some interesting interplay as the tune fades from view. “My Song” has a crisp beat that lays the foundation for a swaggering post bop theme, with swirling alto saxophone and trumpet breaking from the dynamic opening, as Gould adds some electric piano shading. The choppy rhythm keeps things moving as Watson’s saxophone uses quick flurries of notes to navigate at high speed, while the trumpet solo glides gracefully, shadowed by the fender rhodes, and gaining volume as the drums push the beat ever harder. Their tone on Miles Davis’s “Flamenco Sketches” is a reflective one with deftly brushed percussion and beautifully restrained saxophone playing. The trumpet echoes the mood, playing in a melodic manner with spacious bass and light piano accompaniment. Overall, it is a classy and moving performance from the band. The album concludes with the fast paced “The Mystery of Ebop” ushered in with torrid drumming, and leading to a strong and supple track that shows what a tight and talented unit this band is. The horns develop a storming fanfare that leads to Watson soloing with scorching speed and facility, and handing off to the trumpeter who pushes even further over some boiling rhythm section playing. He steps aside for that rhythm team to really shine as they push and pull at the machinery of improvisation in grand fashion. This was a very good mainstream jazz album, and can sit proudly aside any of the Horizon records from the previous century. It’s a shame that this band cannot play live currently, because that would certainly be an experience. Fingers crossed. Keepin' It Real - amazon.com

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