Jeff "Tain" Watts Quintet
Trombonist Conrad Herwig was on to something when he recruited the bass/drum team of James Genus and Jeff "Tain" Watts for his latest Criss Cross release, Osteology. The same pair takes the stage for Tain's week-long stint at New York's Iridium jazz club from January 19th through the 23rd. The other band members are strong, too - Ravi Coltrane on tenor and soprano, Paul Bollenback on guitar, and David Budway on piano. But the show belongs to bassist Genus and, of course, the Tainish one himself. Genus, a mountain of a man, can walk a bass line like few other players can. His note placement is perfect, his finesse and authority palpable. His interplay with Tain is joyous and room-shaking. And he solos like a fiend.
The set primarily consists of material from Tain's debut CD, Citizen Tain (Columbia, 1999). First, Tain and company launch into "The Impaler," the no-holds-barred romp that opens the disc. Tain's solo, the last in the solo rotation, brings down the house. The group continues with the next three cuts from the CD, in order: "Muphkin Man," a loping, Monk-influenced chart with a seven-bar A section; "Attainment," a majestic rubato theme with a nice nylon-string solo by Bollenback; and "Pools of Amber," a beautiful waltz for piano trio that can't but bring Kenny Kirkland to mind. David Budway does an admirable job filling the late pianist's shoes.
Bollenback's own "Double Gemini" closes the set. The guitarist/composer's unaccompanied introduction, a thrilling stylistic melange, gives way to a hot funk/swing alternation during the solos. Bollenback consistently manages to match the high-energy attack of Genus and Tain, but his chorus-heavy sound on "Double Gemini" and "The Impaler" tends to obscure his note choices. Ravi Coltrane's somewhat introverted playing is solidly within the, well, post-Coltrane vein, but could use more fire and originality.
While the band loops "Blutain" as an outro, Tain takes a moment to remind the audience that he wrote these tunes, implying that drummers don't get enough credit as able composers. He also directs the audience's attention to fellow drummer Roy Haynes, who is seated at the bar in a cowboy hat, white jeans, and alligator shoes. The diminutive Haynes tips his big hat to the crowd. It's drummer's night, for a change.