Another Latin Lovefest. Bobby Watson’s last RED release, Quiet As It’s Kept (RED 123284, 1999, reviewed in AAJ, November 1999) had a decidedly Latin personality. If Quiet As It’s Kept had a “Latin fragrance”, then The Next Step is the spewing plume from an erupting Latin volcano. Almost every band member submits his vision of Latin jazz. Ray Mantilla’s “Mantilla’s Jam” and “Camino Al Cielo”, Watson’s “Karita”, Ronnie Mathews’ “Chili Plaza Suite”, and Jack Walrath’s “Los Apolypticanos” all strut with a proud and rhythmic confidence, together a roiling cauldron dance, sweat, and sex that sets the tone of the disc.
Percussion Crazy. Characteristic of most Latin music, percussion plays an integral role on this disc. Ray Mantilla lays down a warm and dense percussive platform that propels the rest of the ensemble. He takes a solo spin on the congas on “Percussion Poutpourri” that dovetails perfectly into the very cool “Chili Plaza Suite”. The piano also plays a very percussive role in Latin music and provides such support here. Ronnie Mathews establishes a molten Latin swing through which the soloists bubble their ideas.
The Soloists? Bobby Watson is consistently recognized in reader and critic’s poles, but he is yet to claim a top prize. This is a pity as he has been producing music of a consistently high quality. On The Next Step, Watson plays with a measured aggression and boundless invention. His tone is as perfect as listeners have come to expect. His contribution, “Karita” continues the wholesale exploration of the Latin side he began on Quiet As It’s Kept. Trumpeter Jack Walrath (a Mingus alum), spits bullets in this highly charged atmosphere. Bassist Lundy is showcased with introductions on the funky “River Jordan” and “Ella Dunham”.
Not All Latin. There are some extra-Latin pieces. “River Jordan” is Watson’s funky side. The group takes a Bebop direction on Tad Dameron’s “Good Bait”, finding Watson playing that brilliant blend of Bird/Stitt/Hodges that characterizes his unique sound. The single slow ballad “Know One Has To Know” is the disc’s only pensive moment. Overall, The Next Step is a well-balanced offering from a group of musicians who obviously have a telepathic empathy and vision. The music here is of the highest quality, eclipsing that released by the major labels. The Next Step is another triumph by Sergio Veschi’s RED enclave.
Personnel: Bobby Watson: Alto Saxophone; Jack Walrath: Trumpet; Ronnie Mathews: Piano; Ray Mantilla: Percussion; Curtis Lundy: Bass; Victor Lewis: Drums.