I won't bother you, the reader, with the details of how I wound up at Dizzy's Coca Cola Club on March 12th, just to say that that it was unplanned. I was in New York City with a lady friend who happened to enjoy jazz, and we couldn't find the club we were going to, so we ended up at Dizzy's, the new Jazz at Lincoln Center venue in the awesome Time Warner building near Columbus Circle. As it turned out, we couldn't have done better. Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson and his reassembled group, Horizonwith Terrell Stafford on trumpet, Ed Simon on piano, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, and Victor Lewis on drumsput on a dynamic, quick-paced, electrifying performance, with each musician's unique style blending together beautifully under the intense inspiration of Mr. Watson.
The setting itself is a "trip. It's on the fifth floor of a mammoth, glitzy skyscraper, with tiers of dazzling stores, sculpture, and art work. Inspired and run by trumpet icon Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Dizzy's is one of several performance halls on the same floor, including the Rose Theater, where John Scofield and Brad Melhdau were playing that night. When you enter the club, it has the feel of a night club, but how many places offer a spectacular view of the New York skyline near Central Park forming the backdrop of the sound stage? The place is worth going to just to see the awesome view. To hear terrific music against such a vista is a romantic, unforgettable, and unique experience.
I incorrectly had surmised that the "Coca Cola Club" wouldn't serve alcohol, but they in fact have an imposing array of liquor available. I don't drink, but my friend had a couple of scotches, which pushed up the tab to over forty dollars apiece, so keep an eye on the cash register when you go there. (In fairness, I don't think the cover is more expensive than other New York Clubs, but quite a bit higher than in, say, Philadelphia.) You're likely, too, to find well-known individuals frequenting the place. We ran into the Reverend Al Sharpton, whom I thought could easily be mistaken for a thinner Count Basie and who seemed to know everyone in the place, so he must be an avid jazz fan.
Bobby Watson plays a richly modulated, soulful but virtuosic alto sax, moving around the keys with alacrity and altering tonal qualities in nuanced ways with a phenomenal armature. He plays very intensely, echoing those powerful Kansas City sounds while moving forward through all the bebop and mainstream trends while maintaining his own consistent style. The other musicians seemed to me more laid back and technically precise, which made Watson's solos stand out. Terrell Stafford stayed right with Watson on their duets. Ed Simon plays in a beautifully reserved, articulate manner, with precise phrasing and a delicate touch. Essiet Okon Essiet showed phenomenal technique on the bass, and the great Victor Lewis provided solid backup, with what seemed to me to be a more aggressive approach than usual and which complemented Watson's intensity.
Because we wound up there quite by chance, I didn't have my note pad with me, so I can't report the titles of all the tunes, but the set ended on a lyrical and spiritual note, with a ballad entitled "Love Remains," composed by Watson's wife, to which he provided a brief Jack Kerouac On the Road type of introduction, explaining its connection to a time in Amsterdam when the day went haywire, but love was there throughout.
Obviously, Horizon and Bobby Watson have websites you can visit for further information about this important group, and they are busy doing recordings. I recommend you devote some serious listening to these guys. Following in the tradition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, they are definitely honoring the jazz tradition and saying important things with their instruments.
Visit Bobby Watson on the web.
C. Andrew Hovan
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