Ernie WattsTo The Point - Live At The Jazz BakeryFlying Dolphin Records
After hearing saxophonist Ernie Watts' CD To The Point - Live At The Jazz Bakey , it's easy to imagine that he possesses superhuman talents similar to those held by members of the fictional Fantastic Four. He breathes fire, can cool with ice, whip up a storm, and shape his sax sound in ways otherworldly. This is a powerful, yet sensitive, technically Herculean, yet human, complex yet elegantly beautiful playerno, a marvel.
Soloing as an intro to the bop classic "Hot House," a complex line laid over Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?," Watts tells you right up front that he taps into an energy and spirit that is universal and highly charged, while never allowing his awesome technique to saturate creativity. Dig the faster than light arpeggiated riffs that give the illusion of multiphonics. Awesome.
For years, Watts was the first call for reeds in the Hollywood studios, and after a decades long stint with Doc Severinsen and Johnny Carson's Tonight Show orchestra, Watts has moved closer to the point as a solo performer and as a featured member of bassist Charlie Haden's group. Here he's backed by a trio of Hollywood's, and the world's, bestpianist David Witham (for years musical director for guitarist George Benson), bassist Bob Lett (of trumpeter Jack Sheldon's Orchestra) and drummer Bob Leatherbarrow. This group has performed together for over 20 yearsand it shows. The energy level is never let up.
Watts' sensitivity and emotional control are spectacular on his own composition, "Season Of Change." There is a uniqueness about his soundvocal, lyric at all speeds, clean, classical. He brings the listener into his sound and solo creations. With such a colossus at the helm, the crew steps up beautifully. Witham's solos on this selection and elsewhere are tasteful, Lett also vocalises his solos and Leatherbarrow's time and touch are pure grace.
"For Michael," a Watts and Leatherbarrow original dedicated to the late saxophonist Michael Brecker, expresses colors over a triple-metered rhythmic layer. Like Brecker, Watts fears no area on the instrument's range and wrings out tones across the range of the horn. Picking up on Watts, Witham's solo flows expressively.
In an interlude between selections, Watts modestly tells those lucky to be at the Jazz Bakery gig that the title tune is a culmination, a moment of truth, wherein a musician's entire investment of time in their instrument is put right on the line. It is truth incarnate. And the truth here is that Watts, although he humbly states "I cannot be John Coltrane," is not only at the top of his game, but the top of the game. He approaches the doorstep to the saxophone pantheon with giant steps.
"Road Shoes," a Watts original blues, aptly demonstrates that the composer can get down to root business and blow appropriately funky with the best of them. Witham's tasteful comping, Bob Leatherbarrow's drive and fills, and able support from Bruce Lett energize.
The beautiful Jon Mayer ballad "Nightscape" displays an almost Ellingtonian melodic line that Watts covers beautifully, lyrically and vocally. Watts knows his saxophone roots oh so well. You hear shades of the great alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, as well as Coltrane in Watts' beautifully classic, seductive sound.
David Witham's pulsing vamp sends off "Reaching Up." Watts takes the lead and indeed reaches up improvisationally.
The energy level across this CD is fever pitch. Watts and crew are indeed a Fantastic Four. The level of musicianship, improvisational skill and interplay among teammates is supreme. The recording and balance is excellent for a live session, so kudos to producer Tim Pinch as well. To The Point is an outstanding effort. And, yes, Ernie, Michael Brecker would, you feel, be very proud.
Track Listing: Hot House; Season of Change; For Michael; To the Point; Road Shoes; Nightscape; Reaching Up.
Personnel: Ernie Watts; saxophones: David Witham: piano; Bruce Lett,: bass: Bob Leatherbarrow, drums.