A film director once said that you can't make a great film with a weak script. The same goes for bands of any kind be it jazz or rock or any kind. You can't have a great band without a great drummer. A band can get by with an average bassist or guitarist, but not with an average drummer. It's the heartbeat of any band. One of the things that has made the band Rolling Stones what they are is drummer Charlie Watts and his exceptional and unusual drumming skills. For more than 50 years, Watts has been the propulsive engine that has driven this juggernaut. Few other drummers were as integral to the development of rock and roll music by creating rollicking grooves that were executed with an unhurried elan. Watts is a player you can listen to for his sound alone as he balances the smooth and the jagged with great ease. Contemporary musicians don't come much more graceful in sound or execution than that.
Apart from his long stint as the drummer of one of the most successful and certainly the longest running rock and roll band in the world, it's not a secret Watts's true love has always been jazz and that he has always had a deep appreciation and admiration for this music which hasn't been that much exploited by the press. During the '50s and '60s, Watts fell in love with jazz music through 78 rpm vinyls and the music of musicians like saxophonists Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan, trumpeter Miles Davis, to name but a few as well as the drummers they employed. Since then, he has been a passionate jazz aficionado whose knowledge about this music sits between the reverential and encyclopedic. During his sojourn with a marketing agency, he even penned an illustrated book about Charlie Parker as a tribute to him and has been collecting old drum sets used by drumming legends. During the day he would work at the agency and during the night he would play local gigs. And as many of his generation, he has learnt his trade both by listening to record and by observing jazz drummers in the London's London's jazz circles.
As a result, his drumming style has always been unorthodox and original. When he joined the Rolling Stones he used his jazz chops in order to invent his style of playing rock and blues rock that the Stones became known for and is the reason why he is so revered these days. When the Stones played in New York for the first time during their first American tour, he went to Birdland to see performances by his bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and the latter would play years later with the Stones on a song named "Waiting on a Friend."
So it wasn't until the '80s and the '90s that Watts began fronting his own jazz bands whenever the demanding tours and work with the Stones would let him. Since then he has formed a number of jazz, boogie-woogie and big band outfits, including Rocket 88, the Charlie Watts Quintet and the Charlie Watts Tentet. Probably that is best portrayed in the thriller movie "Blue Ice" with actor Michael Caine playing a jazz club owner and Watts' band was the house jazz combo that brilliantly rocked the house. Charlie Watts meets the Danish Radio Big Band was instigated in 2009 by English trumpeter Gerard Presencer, who is also a member of the band. The Band had four days of rehearsals and then had a performance at the then newly opened Danish Radio Concert Hall in Copenhagen. All but two of the pieces here are rewrites of earlier, previously recorded selections either with the Rolling Stones or a selection of suits from his duet record with another drumming legend Jim Keltner. But to make a big band work has really very little to do with "star power" and has really everything to do with hard work. If it is played too conservative then everything will sound predictable and everyone will get bored. For a start, this record doesn't break any new ground. The emphasis is more on moods, harmonies and at moments the arrangements do nod at Gil Evans' or Mingus' styled approaches.
The date opens with two parts of "Elvin Suites" which as an original tune from the project with Kelter is a single composition. The original is an African styled piece with African harmonic voices meshed with piano flashes and cymbals. All of that is beautifully arranged here with dry hissing of Watts' brushes that drives the first part. It is indeed difficult to discern between what's arranged and what is spontaneous. The band's rapport is impressive and everything it plays sounds right. The second part emphasizes the drums and there are polyrhythmic runs that drive this piece with saxophonist Uffe Markussen taking the lead and soon the band steps on the gas and ups the game loud.
The Rolling Stones classics are beautifully rearranged and reharmonized. Nothing in these arrangements would hint at the original songs but a solo instrument would take a lead and directly reference the original melody. Even though named as "Faction" as soon as one hears the melody on the flugelhorn it becomes clear that this is "Satisfaction." Watt's subtle and non-flashy rhythm playing is utterly flawless and galvanizes the band. The same goes for the other two Stones classics "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Paint it Black." By no means is this a tribute of faithful recreations of these songs. The arranger shows a daring flair for reimagining these songs. Each of them is rethought and remodeled in order to come out with a vibrant new music. With its imaginative blend of melodies and grooves and colorful textures and timbres, these songs are a launchpad for the big band and its soloists to shine.
"I Should Care" is one of the hidden gems in this collection. There is a certain easiness and flow in this composition, but no blandness at all. The various soloists are stimulating and attentive conversationalists, always listening and often picking up on each other's quips. The album closes on a high note with a beautiful stomp "Molasses." Everything here is filled with movement. It's rich and sticky in rhythm and harmony and is exciting and boiling with energy.
This project feels good in the body and soul. The collaborative energy of this band is exhilarating and a joy to listen. More of this, please.
Elvin Suite Part 1; Elvin Suite Part 2; Faction (also known as Satisfaction); I Should
Care; You Can't Always Get What You Want; Paint It Black; Molasses;
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