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Bobby Watson: The Gates BBQ Suite

Mark F. Turner By

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An esteemed alto saxophonist, Bobby Watson serves up some "down to the bone" goodness in The Gates BBQ Suite. The seven-part suite for large ensemble features the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music & Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra, and is a heartfelt tribute to Watson's hometown of Kansas City—the people, the culture, and tastes, which includes the area's landmark Gates Barbecue restaurant.

Watson's big band masterwork epitomizes an illustrious career of more than 25 years, with notables from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers to Carlos Santana and a number of impressionable recordings that have inspired younger leaders like Orrin Evans' Faith in Action (Posi-Tone Records, 2010). While his earlier, ambitious "The Afroism Suite" was commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council and performed in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1990s, The Gates BBQ Suite is Watson's self-produced "labor of love," and proves not only his ongoing alto prowess, but also his erudite skills as an arranger, composer, and educator.

In "May I Help You," the big brass offer a warm salutation before giving way to a swinging dance motif. Things fire up in "Beef on Bun," with steaming bop and swirling horns. Watson's spirited R&B vamp is the perfect complement to the Ellington-inspired phrasing on "Heavy on the Sauce!," punctuated by standout spots from Watson and trombonist Ben Saylor.

While the movements share a common imprint, there are autonomous ideas. "The President's Tray" is based on a popular Gates menu item that has been enjoyed by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The twist is that it opens with an African percussion processional—honoring the inauguration of President Barack Obama—before commencing a majestic tone with opulent horns, deep solos, and an enticing rhythm.

The final movement "Wilkes' BBQ," heard on Watson's 2008 Palmetto release, From the Heart , closes out the suite, its funky strutting bass vamp provided by Ben Leifer, with a downright delectable and equally soulful rhythm. Everything on this suite's menu is cooked to perfection.

Track Listing: May I Help You?; Beef on Bun; Heavy on the Sauce!; Blues for Ollie; The President's Tray; One Minute Too Late!; Wilkes' BBQ.

Personnel: Bobby Watson: composer, arranger, conductor, alto saxophone; Ryan Sharp, Hermon Mehari, Aaron Linscheid, John Merlitz: trumpet; Michael Shults, Mario Bennett, William Sanders, Steven Lambert, Justin Bayne: reeds; Karen Zawacki, Ben Saylor, Eric Chapman, Sarah Braun: trombone; Nick Grinlinton: guitar; Will Crain: piano; Ben Leifer: bass; Ryan Lee: drums; Pablo Sanheuza, Pat Conway, Andres Ramirez: percussion (5); Roychelle Carter: greeting (1).

Title: The Gates BBQ Suite | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Lafiya Music


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