Bobby Watson is not a new name to the scene. With a résumé that includes tenure with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early ‘80s, as well as various ensembles led by Wynton Marsalis, his robust alto sound has been well represented on over a hundred albums as a guest and nearly twenty-five recordings as a leader. But it is arguably with his mid-‘90s group, Horizon, where he made his most compelling statement. Ten years after the last recording with the group, Watson has reconvened all original members for Horizon Reassembled , which proves that when you have a winning combination, the passage of time is irrelevant. It sounds as thought they’ve never been apart.
What made, and continue to make, Horizon such a distinctive band were qualities that all bands aspire to, but don’t always achieve: unique compositions that, rather than being derivative, push their chosen genre forward; and an energy and group chemistry that lend a recognizable sound. While post bop players are to some extent a dime a dozen, Watson and his group play tunes that are of the tradition yet, like Dave Holland’s current quintet, challenge it by incorporating elements including odd meters, more contemporary rhythms, and tunes that employ somewhat darker hues, like the appropriately titled “Dark Days” and “Dark Days (interlude).”
With a program of mainly original compositions by Watson and his bandmates, trumpeter Terrell Stafford, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis, the group continues to mine hard and post bop territories while mixing in a certain element of the Afro Cuban, coming primarily from Simon and Essiet. The group navigates odd meters with the same comfort level as Holland’s group, whether it be Simon’s 5/4 “Pere” or the 7/4 “Permanoon.”
Everyone plays exceptionally well. Watson’s alto is robust and together with Stafford he creates a strong frontline that is capable of adventure (“Lemoncello”) or tenderness (“The Love We Had Yesterday”). Simon, probably best- known for his longstanding work with Terence Blanchard, is a dynamic yet subtle player. Essiet and Lewis form a rhythm section that is as comfortable with the quirky arrangement of Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” as it is with the more insistent pulse of Lewis’ “Eeeyyess.”
On an album this strong the only weak spot is their cover of the Bacharach/David chestnut “The Look of Love.” Played straight, with nothing in the arrangement to give it a sense of invention, its placement halfway through the album causes a temporary loss of the solid continuity that is evident before and after.
Still, one misstep aside, this is as good as hard and post bop gets. Horizon Reassembled easily ranks with Terence Blanchard’s Bounce and Kenny Garrett’s Standards of Language , arguably two of the genre's best albums of the past year. Let’s hope that Watson’s reconvening of Horizon isn’t just a one-time event, and that the group continues making records as fine as this.
Visit Bobby Watson and Palmetto Records on the web.
Personnel: Bobby Watson (alto saxophone), Terrell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn), Edward Simon (piano), Essiet Essiet (bass), Victor Lewis (drums)