Spirit Song; Cityscape


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Ernie Watts
Spirit Song
Flying Dolphin

Ernie Watts radiates such warmth and lyricism throughout Spirit Song that even a fast-paced, angular tune like "ASFEW ('A Song for Ernie Watts'), where his keening upper register is on display, ends up singing. While he's an ebullient, energetic player, Watts does not sound hurried or frenetic.

It would be remiss not to mention that the spirit of John Coltrane hovers around this date, but this influence does not manifest itself as mere imitation. "When I first heard John Coltrane play, muses Watts, "it was like someone put my hand into a light socket. That jolt has never left his playing and it remains obvious in the passion that flows from him. Yet he remains an individual spirit. He blazes his way through the joyous "Joy Trane, unfettered by the need to imitate. His overdubbing is inspired—a positive, effective device, not merely a gimmick.

"Home with You should not be surprising for those who have heard Watts in Charlie Haden's lyrical Quartet West. The hallmarks of his style—the broad chest tones, prominent in this exposition, as well as his unique quaver and vibrato—are telling. This evocative tune was co-written by pioneering jazz critic (and sometimes composer and musician) Leonard Feather. All hands shine here, as they do throughout the session. Under Watts' leadership, the group meshes and displays a heartfelt approach to the material at hand.

David "Fathead Newman

The level of invention does not diminish on Cityscape. A principal leader of the East Coast scene, David "Fathead Newman rose to prominence in the soul-drenched Ray Charles orchestra, and the sound of Charles' small groups is recalled on this septet session. A Texan with a wide-open timbre, he has broadened his musical perspectives through the years and now is a dean of the woodwinds. On this recording he covers a wide range of material and moods.

Cityscape kicks off its eclectic repertoire with "Goldfinger, the band announcing the James Bond theme in a medium-up groove. Later on in the session, Howard Johnson's burly baritone saxophone, abetted by pianist David Leonhardt's intrepid comping and a fine carpet of swing laid by bassist John Menegon and drummer Yoron Israel, sets the jump-blues feel on "Bu Bop Bass just right. Along the way the beautiful ballads—a leisurely paced "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing and a brooding "It Was a Very Good Year, the latter highlighted by trombonist Benny Powell's plaintive offering—provide contrast to the cookers. Without a doubt, Newman is outstanding throughout on tenor and alto saxophones, as well as flute.

These two woodwind masters offer two complementary views of mainstream jazz today, proclaiming its continuing relevance and vitality.

Tracks and Personnel

Spirit Song

Tracks: ASFEW ("A Song for Ernie Watts"); Home with You; Joy Trane; Sunglasses in the Dark; Pinocchio; Enchanted; The Bubala Dance; Circle of Friends; Spirit Song.

Personnel: Ernie Watts: tenor saxophone, spirit flute (9); David Witham: piano; Bruce Lett: bass; Bob Leatherbarrow: drums, vibes (9).


Tracks: Goldfinger; Pharoah's Gold; A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing; Bu Bop Blues; Here Comes Sonny Man; It Was a Very Good Year; Flankin; Sneakin' In; Suki Duki.

Personnel: David "Fathead" Newman: tenor, alto saxophones & flute; Winston Byrd: flugelhorn, trumpet; Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone; Benny Powell: trombone; David Leonhardt: piano; John Menegon: bass; Yoron Israel: drums.

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