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Watts, Christlieb and Woodard: The Tenor Trio

Ed Kopp By

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In his book Jazz For Beginners, Ron David says that nobody really loves jazz. "People love Miles or Dixieland or Free Jazz or Fusion or two, three or four of the above — but nobody loves jazz. It's too varied."

Truer words were never written. I like to think of myself as a lover of all kinds of jazz, but when it really comes down to it, I prefer swing, bop, fusion, and anything that smacks of the blues. Sure I relate to Miles, Coltrane and Ornette, but they appeal more to my brain than my viscerals. Basie, Blakey and Metheny hit me right in the gut.

Since The Tenor Trio bops and swings simultaneously, here's one CD that really presses my buttons. The Tenor Trio consists of saxmen Ernie Watts, Pete Christlieb and Ricky Woodard. Once his cushy gig on the Tonight Show ended, Watts quickly became a respected mainstream player with a succession of fine albums. Christlieb is a lesser known but no less capable Tonight Show alum. Woodard has blown his sax for Ray Charles and the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra. These three pros engage in some friendly but ferocious battles on this superbly arranged 10-track release.

There are no originals here, but the saxmen put their collaborative stamp on some well-chosen chestnuts. The three saxophones blend beautifully, the solos are intensely competitive, and terrific backup is provided by pianist Gerry Wiggins, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Frank Capp. Tunes include Horace Silver's "Strollin'," Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas," Benny Moten's "Moten Swing," and Neil Hefti's "Little Pony."

The Tenor Trio delivers graceful, joyous bop that's never dissonant. Mainstream jazz seldom sounds this catchy.

Title: The Tenor Trio | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: JVC

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