Alto and soprano saxophonist Bobby Watson’s Live & Learn (Palmetto) is a well-produced recording that speaks to diverse audiences while avoiding condescension and compromise. The tracks are short (only one over seven minutes), relatively easy to digest, and the solos by Watson, pianist Orrin Evans, and guitarist Gregg Skaff do not approach marathon length. Three cuts—“We Fall Down,” “Live & Learn,” and “Landmarks Lost”would make interesting additions to a smooth jazz radio playlist. Each of them transcends the category of skillfully played mood music, and they all stand up well in comparison to the disc’s more conventional jazz fare.
Apart from the recording’s potential for commercial success, the music is of interest to the aficionado because both Watson and Evans are restless improvisers who prefer digressions to a single, easily identifiable chain of thought. On “Stanky P,” Watson’s alto initially sounds almost coy, drawing attention to his sumptuous tone as he takes care to articulate every note clearly. He soon shifts into a series of bebop-oriented passages that suggest someone making a long, determined climb. Before ending with a flourish, Watson raises the music’s temperature with an interlude of passionate blues shouting.
During his solo on “Faith In Action,” Evans develops a theme long enough for it to become familiar, then abruptly catapults to something very different, sometimes returning to a motif not unlike one of his initial choices. Emphatically supported by bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Montez Coleman, the pianist constantly moves between the poles of continuity and disruption, adding different elements at will, yet his montage of melodies is satisfyingly coherent.
Track Listing: 1. Stanky P; 2. Faith In Action; 3. We Fall Down; 4. Thank You; 5. Why Not; 6. Live & Learn; 7. River Jordan; 8. Postlude; 9. Landmarks Lost; 10. I've Gotta Be Me