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Ernie Watts: A Simple Truth

Ian Patterson By

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The title of Ernie Watt's seventh release on his Flying Dolphin label reflects the tenor great's guiding philosophy, as he explained in a recent interview for dublinjazz.ie: "We are creating our reality all day every day by the thoughts that we think and by the things that we say and by our belief systems. It's a very clear and simple path." For Watts, this path has translated, on average, into two hours practice virtually every day for the past fifty three years. Such dedication to his art is clear every time Watts plays and prompted journalist Nat Hentoff to speak of Watts' "total command of his instrument."

Now approaching seventy, Watts is arguably at the peak of his powers as he amply demonstrates on another fine addition to a discography as leader that stretches back to (World Pacific, 1969). Backed by his working quartet of fifteen years standing, Watts serves up five striking originals and three stellar interpretations of tunes by pianist Keith Jarrett, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist/arranger Billy Childs. Bookending the set are two lush orchestral pieces, co-written with and arranged by Ron Feuer: "The Sound: Morning" and "The Sound: Evening" are haunting, gently rhapsodic pieces; layered synthesizer parts and sparkling piano glissandi buoy Watts and Feuer's mellifluous odes to nature.

Like the day slowly warming, the music gains gradually in intensity from the meditative incantation of "The Sound: Morning" through lyrical terrain to an all-out bebop climax, before relenting and easing into softer, end of day colors. In a sense, this is a conceptual recording but Watts' spirituality translates in very visceral musical terms. Swing, bebop and the blues are the wells Watts drinks from. On Jarrett's "No Lonely Nights" Watts' demonstrates that he's a master of slow seduction to boot, his warm tone radiating throughout. Pianist Christof Saenger, bassist Rudi Engel, and drummer Heinrich Koebberling on brushes, add perfectly weighted support.

Watts has imbibed much of Jarrett's art of melodic improvisation over the years, regardless of tempo, as his soaring solo on Koebberling's mid-tempo "The Road We're On" testifies. Saenger and Engel make their own elegant statements before returning to the head. Watts turns up the heat a little on "Acceptance" a satisfyingly meaty straight-ahead tune with a bouncing walking bass line and strutting room aplenty for all; Saenger's bluesy solo sets a high bar for Watts who responds with impassioned energy. The quartet burns on Gillespie's "Bebop," with water-tight unison playing and breathless individual virtuosity the order of the day. The relay between the musicians during Koebberling's feature is an overly familiar device but the drummer's locking of horns with Watts provides a genuinely exciting passage and remains a highlight of any of Watt's shows.

The mellow contours of Childs' "Hope in the Face of Despair" and Watts' caressing ballad "A Simple Truth" steer the quartet past the sunset, while the dusky warmth of the orchestral "The Sound: Evening" calls time on an impressive collective statement that only strengthens Watts' legend.

Track Listing: The Sound: Morning; No Lonely Nights; The Road We’re On; Acceptance; Bebop; Hope in the Face of Despair; A simple Truth; The Sound: Evening.

Personnel: Ernie Watts: tenor saxophone; Christof Saenger: piano; Rudi Engel: acoustic bass; Heinrich Koebberling: drums; Ron Feuer: synthesized orchestration (1, 8).

Title: A Simple Truth | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Flying Dolphin Records

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