Bobby Watson & Horizon: Horizon Reassembled
“ The largely uptempo nature of this album plays to the strengths of the group, which clearly hasn't lost the ability to communicate despite a lengthy interlude. ”
To properly appreciate this CD, according to its leader, you need to listen to it five times.
Horizon Reassembled finds alto saxophonist Bobby Watson reuniting with his hard-bop Horizon quintet from the early 1990s. Fans of the "happy band" no doubt will wonder if this stands up to their previous work since members have, as Watson puts it, "evolved into an all-star ensemble." I have no idea, but intend to find out.
Watson's been recording for three decades, yet possesses some of the most forward-thinking playing and finest tones of any current-day alto player. The best stretches of the Latin-heavy Horizon Reassembled rank among this year's top modern jazz efforts and even the lesser moments are at least decent.
He says his five-listen mandate is so listeners can hear each player's contributions, which he details in clear and concise linear notes: pianist Edward Simon's Latin influence, bassist Essiet Essiet's African presence, drummer Victor Lewis' drum technique, the thinking behind the solo lines of Terell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, and - finally - Watson's alto playing. The notes are better than average in their guidance and a fine incentive to set aside an evening with the CD player programmed on "repeat."
The largely up-tempo nature of this album plays to the strengths of the group, which clearly hasn't lost the ability to communicate despite a lengthy interlude. Their credentials are established within four minutes of the opening straight-ahead "Lemoncello," largely by Watson's driving exploration of his diamond-hard tone, but Stafford also shows he's come to play with a decent collection of riffs that build well off each other. Most everyone does a bit of true "happy band" romping on the title track, and the closing "Xangongo" has a strong bit of world beat and group-think interaction going for it.
Watson's advice to listen for things such as which of two snare drums Lewis selects is a good indicator of the subtle complexity of his backing, mostly seeking to earn respect rather than grabbing center stage and demanding it. Like Essiest's percussion-like bass lines, this may need revisiting to appreciate. Still, Lewis builds things up to an intense fury in Simon's Latin-themed "Pere," culminating in a savage bit of kit abuse accompanied by the pianist's simple vamp.
Things fall off a bit when the group slows down. "The Look Of Love" is an unremarkable effort by Watson and Stafford to soothe instead of challenge. "The Love We Had Yesterday" by Watson's wife, Pam, features a pleasing enough melody, but again Watson and Stafford don't seem inclined to elevate things beyond that surface level of satisfaction. Wanting to keep the mood level isn't necessarily a bad thing, but since most of this album hardly seems intended to occupy the background of listeners' minds it feels like there's potential to get more out of these songs. The Watson originals "Dark Days" and its subsequent interlude get somewhat better treatment from Stafford and Simon, aided by the slow, moody R&B backdrop.
This may not be Watson at his absolute best, but Horizon Reassembled deserves a place among the very solid albums in his discography. Fans will enjoy it and the finer moments will no doubt lure some new listeners into seeking out other albums that offer more of them.
Track listing: Lemoncello; Pere; The Love We Had Yesterday; Gingerbread Boy; Horizon Reassembled; The Look Of Love; Eeeyyess; Permanoon; Dark Days; Dark Days (Interlude); Xangongo
Personnel: Bobby Watson, alto sax; Terell Stafford, fluglehorn, trumpet; Edward Simon, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass; Victor Lewis, drums
Visit Horizon on the web at www.horizonjazz.com .