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Ken Watters Group: Southern Exposure

C. Michael Bailey By

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Sans Brother Harry, Trumpeter Ken Watters steps out with his working quartet and burns his way through a collection of originals, standards, and some surprises.

After two recordings with trombonist brother Harry, Trumpeter Ken Watters brings his working quartet into the studio, where he produces his strongest musical statement yet. The previous Watters' offerings, Brothers (Summit 234) and Brothers II (Summit 266), made with brother Harry, revealed Ken Watters as a composer and arranger of great depth, breadth, and sense of humor. On these discs, Watters displayed his fearless musical vision by choosing unlikely standards to perform, such as "Everything's Alright" from Jesus Christ Superstar. Also revealed on these recordings is Ken Watters' perfectly round trumpet tone, soft and warm and seriously sensuous. His performances are super-fluid and effortless. The overall effect: refined, sophisticated music, delivered in and with the best of taste.

Southern Exposure accelerates Ken Watters' vision on Brothers and Brothers II into hyperspace, exploring more daring standards territory while showing Watters to be expanding his compositional horizon. David Marlow's jaunty piano opens the disc with the Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica". This beacon of 1970s Southern Rock is given a decidedly Latin personality. Marlow and Watters shine in solos, but it is saxophonist Joel Frahm who steals the show with a sizzling South-of-the-Border break that leaves the listener breathless. Habanero indeed. "Cooler on the Horizon" is a wistful ballad that sways with a humid Caribbean gentility. Jay Frederick's drumming is exceptional as is Roy Yarbrough's bass playing. And for course, Watters sets the tropical mood with his warm timbre. And this is just the front of the disc.

Watters' includes Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" in a mini-tribute to Southern California. Both songs are treated tenderly and surpass any of the unlikely standards Herbie Hancock included on his 1996 release, The New Standard (Verve 529584) with a grace and aplomb beyond description. Watters trumpet is again caressing and gentle without ever being sentimental or sloppy. The disc is rounded out with a full-throated "Stella by Starlight" and a pensive "We'll Be Together Again" plus two more originals. Expertly produced by veteran producer Johnny Sandlin (The Allman Brothers, Duane Allman), Southern Exposure offers a progressive mainstream break from the current jazz status quo. This is an unqualified fine disc that would be a worthy addition to any jazz fan's library. Now, go get it!

Track Listing: Jessica; Cooler on the Horizon; Both Sides Now; Stella By Starlight; We'll Be Together Again; April Third; Fire & Rain; Pathfinder. (Total Time: 51:17)

Personnel: Ken Watters: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; David Marlow: Piano; Roy Yarbrough: Acoustic bass; Jay Frederick: Drums; Joel Frahm: Saxophones.

| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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