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Jeff "Tain Watts, regarded by many as the most important drummer/leader of his generation, has also proven to be one of the more significant jazz composers to emerge in his time. On Folk's Songs, a date of (predominantly) original compositions dedicated to a diverse collection of artists (and one for the "citizens of earth ), he debuts his band the Ebonix, featuring Christian McBride (basses), Marcus Strickland (saxophones) and David Kikoski (piano and keyboards), with guest appearances by guitarist David Gilmore, keyboardist Henry Hey and percussionist Samuel Torres. A self-produced effort for his own Dark Key Music label, it rivals in quality, variety and excitement any of his earlier albums.
Watts' multihued drummingranging from wildly energetic to soulfully sensitiveis matched by his writing, which displays an appealing musicality unrestrained by formulaic restrictions. His pieces tell interesting stories, often with unanticipated twists and surprising climaxes, revealing a true insight into the characters of the persons to whom the songs are dedicated, as in the vaguely ominous opening on "Samo (the drummer's memorial to painter Jean Michel Basquiat) or the raucous laughing coda to "Seed of Blakzilla (a tribute to comedian Dave Chappelle). The leader's other offerings include an easy swinging "Ling's Lope (for frequent collaborator Branford Marsalis), the moving and romantic "Laura Elizabeth (dedicated to trumpeter Laura Kahle), a mournful ethereal hymn, "Galilee (a remembrance of pianist James Williams) and the funky rocking "Blues 4 Curtis (an homage to soul innovator Curtis Mayfield).
Compositions by pianists Keith Jarrett and Kenny Kirkland help to fill out the date. The former's "Rotation is heard in two parts and is dedicated by Watts to the composer's former band mate, saxophonist Dewey Redman. "Blasphemy by Kirkland, whom Watts often cites as his primary compositional mentor, begins with a conga introduction and is a dual dedication to percussionist Don Alias and its writer. The session's wild card is "Same Page (with words and music by Watts); featuring the composer's vocal and Gilmore's guitar, the track takes on a folk/rock quality that hearkens back to the Grateful Dead's American Beauty, demonstrating the breadth of Watts' influences and direction.
Track Listing: Samo; Rotation; Ling's Lope; Seed of Blakzilla; Laura Elizabeth; Galilee; Blues 4 Curtis; Rotation II Same Page...;Blasphemy.
Personnel: Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums, percussion; Marcus Strickland: tenor and soprano saxophone; Christian McBride: acoustic and electric bass; David Kikoski: piano; Henry Hey: keyboards (6, 7, 10); David Gilmore: guitar (7, 9); Samuel Torres: percussion (10); Juan Tainish: vocals (9).