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Bobby Watson at the Saville Theater, San Diego, CA

Robert Bush By

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Bobby Watson Quartet
Saville Theater (San Diego City College)
San Diego, CA
May 11, 2010

Currently based in Kansas City, where he teaches at the University of Missouri/ Conservatory of Music, Bobby Watson has a long, storied career. He attended music school in Miami in the 1970's, where his classmates included Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Mike Stern, and Mark Egan. After leaving school, he joined the legendary Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, serving as musical director from 1977-81. Since then, he has worked with a veritable "Who's Who" of modern jazz like Max Roach, Sam Rivers, and Louis Hayes, to name but a few. His mastery of the alto saxophone, however, is never pedantic and always musical. On Tuesday night he led a stellar quartet of seasoned improvisers through a solid 90 minute concert to a sold-out audience.

The show featured local San Diego stalwarts Mike Wofford on piano (he's played with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Vinny Golia), and the ubiquitous Duncan Moore, (Holly Hoffman, Bob Magnusson) on drums. Los Angeles based musician Edwin Livingston on double-bass (Natalie Cole, Bobby Matos) rounded out the Watson Quartet. The band was fresh off of a private performance from the previous evening, and after that one gig, they managed to sound like a working ensemble. Watson came out swinging with a lock-step groove on Duke Pearson's "Jeanine." Next was a melodically oblique take on "All Of Me" with boisterous solos from the whole crew. Particularly noteworthy, in terms of Mr. Watson's original's was "Appointment In Milano," propelled by Livingston's rocking bass vamp. Next up was an untitled (written on the spot) blues which drew out deep solos from Wofford and Watson, and some spirited exchanges with Duncan Moore's drums.

Watson introduced the next tune, "Climbing The Stairs" as a work in progress, but aside from some pre-count-off instructions to Wofford, it sounded as complete as some of the standards they played. As the concert drew nearer to its close, the pace and intensity picked up considerably. The quartet tore into Charlie Parker's, "Confirmation" staying true to it's be-bop origins— interpreted with a 2010 depth of experience. Mr. Watson saved his personal best for last, with a startling, quicksilver cadenza prior to launching the combo into the oft-played "Cherokee" by Ray Noble.

Bobby Watson has all the tools, chops-wise, to take off into the stratosphere every time he picks up the horn—yet he only did so when the music or the moment called for it. He played it cool and used his dry limpid tone to facilitate maximum swing at all times. Kudos to him for that! Mike Wofford is simply a monster of the acoustic piano. The depth of his 40 years plus experience in music was well demonstrated on this night—every solo he took was a highlight. Duncan Moore is criminally under-rated among drummers of his generation. If he were willing to re-locate from sunny San Diego, he'd be much more well known. As it is, he richly deserves the first-call drummer reputation he enjoys. Edwin Livingston was a new name to me, one I won't soon forget, however. Livingston's playing was a revelation: this young man produces a huge, woody, sound. He took a solo with the bow that was so fiendishly dexterous—he brought the house down—and made more than a few jaws drop in the process.

Throughout the evening, Watson seemed genuinely surprised by all the applause and attention. He was gracious to his audience and generous with his sidemen. His performance served as a reminder of how satisfying mainstream acoustic jazz can be when a master of the art form is at the helm. For those in the audience—it was all over too soon.

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