Jim Keltner apparently gets off on sampling every percussive sound he comes across – kitchen utensils, rattling chains, banging on a table, etc. I know this because I’ve just finished listening to the Charlie Watts Jim Keltner Project, and I think I’ve heard every possible banging sound that this planet has to offer. When super-session man Keltner hooked up with the Rolling Stone’s Cheshire Cat Charlie Watts, their apparent goal was to make an engaging and eclectic percussive jazz album – one that would be centered on drums, but also include other elements such as African and Indian stylings. Did they succeed in this goal? Well, while Project is certainly eclectic, it is by no means engaging. As a matter of fact, other than a few brief moments, it’s a mess.
The CD starts out on a high note with the track “Shelly Manne” (did I mention that all the tracks are named after famous drummers?). Watts lays out a real good groove, while Keltner uses some tasteful sequences and percussion to fill out the piece. Clocking in at just under 3 minutes, the song is over before it has a chance to get tedious. This is unfortunately not the case with the rest of the CD. The next tune titled “Art Blakely” starts off with a cool jungle vibe (I expected the Zulus to come rushing out of my speakers) that initially sounds promising but soon turns repetitive and boring as after a minute you realize that you’re just going to listen to the same few measures over and over and over. This reminded more of house music (like they play at fashion shows) than jazz. On the excruciatingly long “Tony Williams” (12 minutes), there is an interesting use of a synthesized voice that stops being interesting after about 2 minutes. The remaining 10 minutes will have you subjected to some of the most obnoxious cymbal work I’ve ever heard, courtesy of Mr. Watts. With a few exceptions, the rest of the album pretty much consists of surprisingly pedestrian drumming from Watts coupled with totally inappropriate samples from Keltner. Very disappointing.
Was there anything positive about Project ? Well sort of... the 12 minute “Elvin Suite” has a really nice smooth jazz flavor to it – that is until the African choir comes in and totally destroys any ambience the song was trying to build. “Roy Haynes” has Watts busting a KILLER drum pocket, only to have Keltner’s obnoxious samples ruin the groove. As a matter of fact, the best part of this CD happens despite Watts and Keltner and not because of them; in the middle of another boring track called “Max Roach”, piano man Emmanuel Sourdeix and string bassist Remy Vignolo break in and play an absolutely fantastic two minutes of traditional jazz that leaves you wondering why these musicians aren’t featured more prominently on the album.
However, other than an interesting first track and two minutes worth of flying piano and bass, Project is an utter disappointment. I’m sure that Watts and Keltner are very capable musicians who could come up with something very interesting together, but this ain’t it.