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Ernie Watts Quartet: Oasis (2011)

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Ernie Watts Quartet: Oasis How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Setting up Flying Dolphin Records in 2004 has given tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts wings. After 35 years calling on an ever-changing array of some of the greatest names in jazz to play on his records, Watts has now settled into two quartets: his American and European groups. The continuity of these ensembles and the complete artistic freedom that he's wrestled free have resulted in some of his strongest recordings. Four Plus Four (Flying Dolphin Records, 2009), To the Point-Live at the Jazz Bakery (Flying Dolphin Records, 2008), Spirit Song (Flying Dolphin Records, 2005), and Analog Man (Flying Dolphin Records, 2007)—winner of the Independent Music Award for Best Jazz Album—show Watts to be in a very good place artistically, writing and playing better than ever. Oasis- continues the run of fine form.

Drummer Heinrich Koebberling's "Konbawna" is a lyrical limbering-up exercise which features brief but impressive solos from bassist Rudi Engel and pianist Christof Saenger. Saenger, in turn, contributes the elegant "Palmito," featuring a fired-up Watts. After 13 years together, there is a generosity in the quartet's writing process, and the personalities of all four members are prominent throughout. One of two co-written by longtime collaborator, pianist Jeremy Monteiro
Jeremy Monteiro
Jeremy Monteiro
b.1960
piano
, the title track shows the influence of tenorist John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
with its brooding, spiritual intro. This gripping slow burner, with its suggestive Arabic underbelly, takes a number of deft turns, with Watts at his most expressive; whether stating the melody or unleashing tumultuous, tumbling lines which rattle the bones, the saxophonist's sincerity is powerful.

Watts' innate feel for a ballad finds expression in Will Jennings/Joe Sample
Joe Sample
Joe Sample
1939 - 2014
piano
's "One Day I'll Fly Away," and Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
Johnny Mandel
b.1925
arranger
/Dave Frishberg
Dave Frishberg
Dave Frishberg
b.1933
piano
's "You Are There." These beautiful tunes bring Saenger and Watts together into the spotlight, and their tender exchanges are softly voiced and full of warmth and lyricism. The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
' classic "Blackbird" is given a robust workout, Watts' burly tone steering the quartet away from the initial melody into more exploratory terrain, with the quartet shifting gears effortlessly. Watts signs off with a full-throated, honking cadenza, which typifies his original approach to this much-covered tune.

Coltrane's "Crescent" swings beautifully, Saenger laying down the marker with an extended solo of great fluidity before Watts replies with instant intensity, stretching himself in a searching, soaring run. Coltrane has long provided Watts with inspiration, but like another great tenorist, Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
b.1938
saxophone
, Watts draws from Coltrane's spirit while maintaining his own, very personal identity. Soulfulness and blues characterize Watts' playing, and this is also heard on Watts and Monteiro's lovely "Twilight Walt"; even when mapping the contours of a simple melody, Watts commands attention.

Another Watts original, "Bass Geige" swings hard, with all four musicians displaying their fine wares. Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
/Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
bop classic, "Shaw Nuff," takes the quartet out on a high, with Saenger and Watts locking horns in thrilling foot-to-the-floor unison lines. With Oasis Watts confirms—as if confirmation were needed—that he is one of the greatest living tenor saxophonists at the top of his game. A joy from start to finish.

Track Listing: Konbawna; Oasis; One Day I'll Fly Away; Blackbird; Palmito; Crescent; Twilight Waltz; Bass Geige "bahss guy-geh"; You are There; Shaw Nuff.

Personnel: Ernie Watts: tenor saxophone; Christof Saenger: piano; Rudi Engel: bass; Heinrich Koebberling: drums.

Record Label: Flying Dolphin Records


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