Published since 1997
Longtime contributor to AAJ and Downbeat, Jazz Review, EjazzNews, Radio DirectX.
On January 13th 2001, Alabama-based jazz trumpeter Ken Watters took his quartet to New Orleans’ much beloved and altogether historic establishment known as “The Funky Butt” which is located on “Rampart Street” in Congo Square. And while they rolled into town for their inaugural outing in the “Big Easy”, Watters and co. performed for an unsurprisingly receptive audience, as the band attracted a near - sold out crowd!
Ken Watters and his trombonist brother Harry have made somewhat of a splash with two critically acclaimed (Brothers: Ken & Harry Watters) CDs on “Summit Records”, yet due to commitments for Uncle Sam, Harry is unable to tour with the band. However, the trumpeter along with pianist David Marlow, bassist Roy Yarbrough and drummer Jay Frederick, pack a mighty punch as the quartet instills their distinctive sound into standards, Watters’ originals and shrewd spins on rock and pop classics.
The band enamored the patrons of this spacious, two-story venue with an airy and expressively lyrical rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” while also turning in a peppery, hybrid jazz/funk and Latin version of “The Allman Brothers” 70’s rock hit, “Jessica”. The group opened the second set with the captivating and lushly romantic piece culled from the “Brothers” first recording, titled “The Girls Back Home”, whereas local hero, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis sat in with the band for “Autumn Leaves” and three other numbers. During this segment, the musicians engaged in a good old fashioned blowing session marked by Marlow’s climactic opuses, Watters’ razor sharp choruses, rapid flurries and the rhythm section’s timely dynamics and fiery swing pulse. (Drummer Jay Frederick had a bout with the flu; although, his illness did not diminish his polyrhythmic sense of swing and vigorous attack. – Up and coming New Orleans area tenor saxophonist Desmond Phillips joined the band and Marsalis for some festive hard bop, yet at times the young musician seemed to be at a loss for improvisational ideas by frequently repeating a series of triplets within the same register.
Overall, the musician’s New Orleans debut was a resounding success, as the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to the quartet’s diverse repertoire, impacting arrangements and refreshing groove driven vibes, proved that a good time was had by all.
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