There are tribute albums, and then there's Folk's Songs
, Jeff "Tain Watts' debut release on Dark Key Music under the group name Tain & the Ebonix. Rather than the typical collection of remakes, Watts delivers seven original compositions among the ten songs that honor people who have influenced and inspired him.
Tain & the Ebonix are Watts on drums and percussion, everyman Christian McBride on bass, Marcus Strickland on saxophones and David Kikoski on piano. The ensemble is joined on selected tracks by guitarist David Gilmore, keyboardist Henry Hey, percussionist Samuel Torres and vocalist Juan Tainish.
A Pittsburgh native, Watts has an extensive career that includes his distinction of being the only musician to appear on every Grammy
-winning recording by both Wynton and Branford Marsalis. In addition to the Marsalis brothers, Watts has shared the stage or studio with such artists as Kenny Garrett, Kenny Kirkland, Courtney Pine, Geri Allen, Alice Coltrane, Better Carter and Michael Brecker. He also spent three years on NBC's The Tonight Show
, and had an acting part in Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues
One of the originals, "Samo, begins quietly but soon picks up energy and emotion. Watts wastes no time showing why he's been in such demand, employing his entire kit instead of relying primarily on the hi-hat, snare and bass. Strickland delivers a blistering tenor sax solo during the song's climax.
The swinging, bluesy "Ling's Hope is a tribute to Branford Marsalis. Watts works the snare and cymbals more on this one. Strickland performs another engaging solo and carries the melody, complemented largely by Kikoski. Strickland shifts to the soprano sax for "Laura Elizabeth, a ballad in honor Laura Kahle, a trumpet player who arranged music for Watts in 2005 and worked with him and Wynton Marsalis in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The track is highlighted by Strickland's lead, and a solo by Kikoski.
One of the more engaging selections is "Blues 4 Curtis, a nine-minute dedication to groundbreaking composer/musician/singer Curtis Mayfield. All musicians, including Gilmore and Hey, get an opportunity to shine here. Gilmore sets a rhythm with effects similar to those employed by Mayfield during his Superfly
(Curtom, 1972) days. Hey's keyboard work adds an element of funk to an already soulful jam. The song is a powerful throwback to the 1960s and '70s, when Mayfield was in his prime.
From start to finish, Watts and his sidemen are in the groove. They play it straight, with no gimmicky chasers. Folk's Songs
is as honest as it getsmusic for art's sake.