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Jeff "Tain" Watts: Detained at the Blue Note

John Kelman By

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From drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts' introduction to the live recording Detained at the Blue Note —"Hey everybody, it's Saturday, let's get loose !"—you know this is going to be a fun event. With a group that includes the ubiquitous pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Eric Revis, who works with Watts in Branford Marsalis' band, guitarist Dave Gilmore (not the "Pink Floyd" David Gilmour), tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland and, guesting on three tracks, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, the ingredients are all there for a performance that bristles with excitement. And bristle it does, as Watts and his group work through five pieces that, at over seventy minutes, are extended workouts with plenty of space for everyone to blow.

Starting with a clever interpretation of Bjork's "107 Steps," Watts shows that it is, indeed, possible to reinvent a pop tune into something that retains the flavour of the original while, all the while, swinging hard. Strickland, a player who is in increasing demand these days, is an energetic player with an impressive rhythmic bent. Gilmore's solo shows just how underappreciated he is outside of music circles; when the tune settles into its irregular-metered ostinato he plays with fire that crosses a straight-ahead bebop approach with a taste of M-Base. Watts, also soloing over the ostinato, demonstrates how he is the torch-carrier for Art Blakey and, most notably, the recently-departed Elvin Jones, while at the same time incorporating a subtle sense of hip hop that makes things swing in a completely modern way.

"JC is The Man" starts as a light-hearted swing with a simple theme that everyone treats as a round, but before long it's an "everyone-in-the-pool" piece of collective improvisation that is notable for the incredible communication between Strickland, Gilmore and Kikoski.

But things really take off when guest Kenny Garrett takes the stage for "Mr. JJ," a modal workout where Watts' playing pays deep homage to Elvin, while Kikoski supports Garrett in true McCoy Tyner fashion. Garrett's solo, much as when he played at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival this past summer, starts at 60 mph and takes off from there. Three minutes into the solo he's in an extreme duet with Watts, blowing steadily ascending long tones that build in intensity, seemingly without end until the band finally rejoins and raises the temperature even further. Even when the band takes things down a notch or two, as they do with the nineteen-minute "Sigmund Groid," Garrett's sheer power is felt, and what makes him all the more effective is that he's not all about sheets of sound; he is equally aware of the need for space and builds his solo in equal measures of density and openness.

Impeccably recorded for the Blue Note Club's fledgling Half Note Records, Detained at the Blue Note gives Watts a chance to work material from his last two studio releases in a more extended setting and, based on the results, as good as his studio efforts have been, he really ought to stick to live recordings.

Track Listing: 107 Steps; JC is The Man; Mr. JJ; Sigmund Groid; ...Like the Rose

Personnel: Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums, vocal), Kenny Garrett (alto saxophone), Dave Kikoski (piano, synthesizer), Eric Revis (bass), David Gilmore (guitar), Marcus Strickland (tenor saxophone)

Title: Detained At The Blue Note | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Half Note Records

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